Bill Guerin became accustomed to adapting on a moment’s notice during an 18-year NHL career that included a pair of Stanley Cup wins.
So, the former Pittsburgh Penguin knew how to make the most of an unusual situation Saturday night at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Guerin dropped the ceremonial first puck in front of 3,025 fans at the Johnstown Tomahawks home opener against the Port Huron Fighting Falcons. He did so in a smokey fog created by a fairly impressive indoor fireworks display held as part of an elaborate introduction of the Tomahawks players.
The smoke was so thick that the game was delayed about 30 minutes, and the haze never entirely subsided throughout the NAHL contest. Guerin retreated to the hallway, where he signed autographs and posed for photographs.
After a while, a Tomahawks staffer suggested to the line of fans that Mr. Guerin might be ready to move along. Guerin said the puck hadn’t dropped and he had time for the fans. He continued to sign autographs and stopped to shake hands or have his photo taken.
That’s the type of improvisation Tomahawks fans – and Penguins fans – can appreciate.
“There is no better person to represent the values and goals of the Tomahawks organization than Bill Guerin,” Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard said.
Guerin had a difficult act to follow because last year Penguins owner and Hall of Fame two-time Cup winner Mario Lemieux dropped the puck for the Tomahawks’ first-ever home game.
Like Lemieux, Guerin spoke to the Tomahawks in the locker room moments before the players took the ice. The group of mostly teenagers looked wide-eyed as Guerin told them to play hard and take care of the “little things” on the ice.
“I don’t know if I ever met an NHLer until I played in the NHL,” Guerin said prior to dropping the puck. “Whatever I can do to maybe influence somebody’s game and career, or whatever, it’s nice to come and give back and get involved in local hockey and local hockey teams and communities.”
Guerin certainly had a knack for making an impact in the NHL. The Penguins acquired him at the trade deadline in 2009, and he was a key piece in the Sidney Crosby-led team’s winning Pittsburgh’s first Stanley Cup in 17 years.
A season later, he retired as a Penguin after playing for eight NHL teams and ranking seventh among U.S.-born players with 429 goals and 13th with 856 points.
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame selected Guerin as part of the Class of 2013.
Guerin, who also won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1995, remembered his start as a young player when looking into the Tomahawks’ faces.
“I can relate just because I did it,” Guerin said. “I sat in dressing rooms like that and worse. Long bus trips. Weekend trips. Week-long trips. That’s the bond that hockey players have. We’ve all done that and we can relate.”
The Tomahawks organization impressed Guerin – fog and all.
“I know they do things one way, first class,” Guerin said, referring to majority owner James Bouchard and Richard Bouchard. “It’s not just for fun. It’s to create a good environment and a good opportunity for these young kids. That’s great. You want to see it be successful.
“It’s for the community. This community has a rich hockey tradition. People know about Johnstown all over the world. It’s a place that should always have a hockey team.”
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Heroes: The Tomahawks will recognize members of the U.S. Armed Services and veterans throughout the season.
The JWF Industries Hero of the Game ceremony for the opener involved the team’s colors.
Sgt. Mike Restauri and Staff Sgt. Jeff Jorinscay, members of the 104th ARB from Johnstown, returned a Tomahawks flag they had planted during their service in Afghanistan.
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Regional Roots: Port Huron forward Noah Batis is from Latrobe. He played his first NAHL game on Saturday.
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Ice Man: Dave Wescott of Raleigh, N.C., squeezed a visit to the War Memorial in between jobs with the Boston Bruins and an arena in Utica, N.Y.
Wescott operates All Star Arenas. He had served as the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes ice technician for a few years and had advisory roles at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, 2006 Italy Olympics and the 2003 and 2009 World Figure Skating Championships.
He’s traveled the country extensively the past 12 years instructing ice rink facility operations and management courses including refrigeration, ice resurfacers, risk management and rink programming.
“First of all we make sure the equipment is up to snuff,” said Westcott, who drove his first Zamboni at age 17 in 1980. “If the machinery is not in top shape it’s hard to do a good job. From there we work on the proper operation of the equipment.
“We’ve seen in this industry that knowledge gets passed down and things start to get missed, especially the basics.”
Wescott advised War Memorial staffers and was on hand to offer support prior to the Tomahawks opener.
“I know the rink floor itself is part of the dilemma here,” Wescott said of the arena, which opened in 1950. “It’s aged. You can count on them for a good 30 or 35 years. I think they’re past that. It just adds to the ice maker’s job. It requires a little more maintenance because it is so old.
“The goal is to get the best sheet of ice possible.”
What was the best advice he offered to the Johnstown crew?
“When they shut the doors after they’ve made the sheet of ice they should look out there and say, ‘Wow. That’s good,’” Wescott said.