The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

September 2, 2010

Nailers plan to ‘keep hockey alive in Johnstown’

JOHNSTOWN — The Wheeling Nailers unveiled Phase I of their plans for 10 ECHL regular season games to be played at Cambria County War Memorial Arena in 2010-11.

Among the highlights announced on Wednesday at the arena are a Dave “Killer” Hanson bobblehead night, military appreciation night held in conjunction with Veterans Day, $1 dog nights and Boy and Girl Scout nights. Additional plans for a Johnstown Jets alumni event are in the works.

A special Johnstown version of a Nailers jersey also was on display.

“We’ve got to keep hockey alive in Johnstown,” said Rob Brooks, a Murrysville native who has owned the Nailers with his brother, Jim, for eight years. “Fifty pro seasons in Johnstown, we’ve got to keep that going.”

The former Johnstown Chiefs franchise played

22 ECHL seasons before owner Neil Smith and investor Steve Posner gave up on Johnstown and moved to Greenville, S.C.

Smith had bought the Chiefs for $1 in 2002 from civic minded Richard Mayer. The deal hinged on Smith’s promise to keep the team in the city for a number of years. Smith lived up to that pledge, and then some, but he opted to move after facing mounting financial losses.

The Brooks brothers almost immediately looked into the possibility of playing part of the Nailers’ 36-game home schedule in Johnstown. In theory, it lowers season-ticket costs for Nailers fans, who purchase

26 home dates instead of

36 while also giving loyal

Johnstown fans a chance to see some ECHL hockey for at least one more season.

The Brookses encountered a similar situation after they purchased the former Philadelphia Phantoms American Hockey League team with the intention of moving it to Allentown when a facility was available there.

“There had been a team in Glens Falls (N.Y.) but the Red Wings left after 20 years,” Brooks said. “The Albany (N.Y.) team had been playing five or six games there to keep hockey alive there.”

Based on those games and the support they drew, the Brooks brothers opted to put their AHL team in Glens Falls and name it the Adirondack Phantoms. Plans still might lead to a move to Allentown in a few years but for now, hockey remains in Adirondack.

“We decided to move our team there, and now they’re back on the map,” Rob Brooks said. “That’s what we want to do here.”

Hanson played for the

Johnstown Jets and was on the NAHL Lockhart Cup-winning team in 1974-75. A fan favorite known for his tough, physical play, Hanson has fond memories of Johnstown and the War Memorial. Of course, “Killer” became a movie star in the city, too. He played the perfect role  – Dave “Killer” Hanson  – in the Paul Newman movie “Slap Shot” filmed in Johnstown in 1976.

“I started my career in Johnstown. During my time here,  Johnstown was the best place to play hockey,” said Hanson, now a Pittsburgh resident. “It was stompin’ and rompin’ in the stands when we played hockey, and we were stompin’ and rompin’ on the ice.”

The Hanson bobblehead promotion will be part of a Dec. 11 game against the Gwinnett Gladiators. Brooks said Hanson will wear a Jets jersey on the bobblehead.

“I’m thrilled,” Hanson said. “When I played they had a Dave ‘Killer’ Hanson fan club and I had my own mug. Now I’ll have my own bobblehead. Life doesn’t get any better.”

Pittsburgh Penguins Assistant General Manager Jason Botterill attended Wednesday’s ribbon cutting. Botterill said Johnstown fans will have  a chance to see players in the Pens’ organization, perhaps even a few who one day advance to the NHL.

“This area is so excited about hockey right now with the success of the Penguins, the league bringing the Winter Classic to Pittsburgh, the success of youth hockey players getting drafted to the National Hockey League and playing well for USA Hockey teams,” Botterill said. “To me there is energy in Pennsylvania right now towards the game of hockey. Johnstown’s been a great home to hockey in the past. It’s disappointing what’s happened with the team leaving. This (Nailers schedule in Johnstown) is not a full season, but it’s 10 games. Hopefully they can pack it in here and get some energy in this building.”

The Johnstown jerseys feature a gold triangle on the crest as a tribute to the Penguins’ logo. Inside the triangle, the Penguin mascot of the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is holding a hockey stick while wearing the official Wheeling Nailers jersey.

“We came up with a logo that really represents the Penguins,” Rob Brooks said. “We didn’t want to come in and wear our mask (logo) right in front of everybody. It’s a sensitive time for Johnstown. We want to help them through it and come up with a solution.”

The Brooks brothers plan to use the “Slap Shot” ties to Johnstown in other ways.

Rob Brooks said the general manager’s office used in the movie will be available to rent for parties, with 15 seats to watch the game. “Slap Shot” memorabilia will be in the room.

“We want to celebrate the past and bring hope for the future,” Rob Brooks said.

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