BY MIKE BURNS
Johnstown will become a hockey town again in 30 days when the Tomahawks open their second season in the North American Hockey League.
But fans will get extensive opportunities over the next month to get better acquainted with the team, as the front office staff has aligned a program of meet-and-greet appearances and community projects to link players with diverse cultural backgrounds to a city with a strong love for the game.
The programs range from housing and humanity projects and visiting regional medical centers, to players delivering season tickets to residences. The initial meet-and-greet program is scheduled to face off on Saturday night in Richland. The junior players, ranging from ages 17-20, are to report to Johnstown this weekend. Practices begin on Monday.
“The program is all about getting the new guys to see the best fans in league,” Tomahawks general manager Rick Boyd said, after the Cambria County War Memorial crammed in more than 4,000 fans to see the team’s inaugural Junior-A game last September. “This is our first real year of a team that we built from the ground up, a product of what the coaches have built. With 17 guys returning for their second season, it’s really our first for building a team and we want to make sure they fit into Johnstown.”
Boyd insists that the programs were put into play by many members of the Tomahawks staff, including members with professional hockey backgrounds who played or started their careers in the city.
“From our marketing staff to our hockey operations ... Our gameday people have done a fabulous job of setting up events and getting the players involved,” Boyd said. “Ultimately, it was a team effort but it was derived by our marketing staff to introduce the team to the community, and help them fall in love with this city and the people.”
Which is what Boyd experienced with the Johnstown Chiefs in six of his eight years as a professional hockey player.
Johnstown director of business operations Jean Desrochers had the same Johnstown experience as a player for the Chiefs for parts of four seasons beginning in 2005. He went on to play two stints in the AHL and coaches the Junior Chiefs squads in the city.
“We want to show the players what Johnstown has to offer,” Desrochers said. “We want them to become a part of the community, become involved, and have those experiences and appreciate it. It sort of a way for our players to give back to the city.”
The Tomahawks open the season on Sept. 14 against Port Huron at the War Memorial.
Mike Burns is the sports editor at The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurnsTD.