Every so often, the community has an opportunity to give back to someone who quietly has given so much in his or her own way.
This is one of those times for the region’s sports fans and current and former athletes, both pro and amateur.
A charity hockey game to benefit Dave “Ziggy” Zeigler will be held at 7:30 on June 5 at Planet Ice in Richland Township.
Just about anyone involved in hockey in Johnstown knows Ziggy, whether they played or coached at the youth, high school and college levels or with our former pro team.
Zeigler operates Ziggy’s Sports, a pro shop that supplies equipment and uniforms with a specialty in hockey goods.
The store is located adjacent to Cambria County War Memorial Arena, where Zeigler once operated the pro shop for many years.
He was set to head the pro shop at Planet Ice under the facility’s new management. But Zeigler, who also is an equipment man with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins during home games, recently was stricken by a serious health problem.
Out of respect to Zig and his family, this isn’t the place to discuss all of the details of his illness or the treatment. Let’s just say that Zig could use our prayers and best wishes right now.
That’s the least those of us who’ve been involved in Johnstown hockey could do.
The guy will give you the shirt off of his back. That’s the type of guy he is, said Johnstown native and Pittsburgh Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze, who added Zeigler to his staff three seasons ago.
“He came in as an emergency fill-in for me, and he never left,” Heinze said. “Since the time he’s gotten sick, the coach (Dan Bylsma) called everyone into the room to let everyone know Zig wasn’t doing very well. He’s in the Penguins’ thoughts. Sidney Crosby asks how he is. Players are asking about him.
“Zig is a quiet guy. He did his role in the back. The guys like him. It’s just a shock.”
The Penguins team photograph was scheduled only days after Zeigler fell ill. His absence didn’t go unnoticed.
“We had our team picture, and he missed it by two days,” Heinze said. “Our team photographer took the picture from last year that included Ziggy and he photo-shopped him into this year’s photo.”
Zeigler also was in a special photo last season. He made the trip to Detroit for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins won the Cup and a wild on-ice celebration followed. When it was time for the candid celebratory team photo near center ice, owner Mario Lemieux was nowhere to be found.
Zig told me a few days later that he was instructed to find Mario quickly. He did.
And when the team photo was taken, there was Ziggy, standing right next to the Pens owner once known as No. 66.
Heinze said a gigantic copy of that photo is on display in the administrative offices at Mellon Arena.
But Zeigler’s presence has been felt even more locally than in the NHL.
If an area high school student went into his shop on a limited budget, Zeigler usually accommodated the player by finding the right equipment for the right price or by cutting a break.
He sponsors many youth sports teams in baseball, football and hockey in some manner or another.
When someone needed an item for a charity auction or a raffle, Ziggy usually came up with something special.
He also staffed many of the Johnstown Chiefs home games under head equipment manager Mic Midderhoff, adding experience and expertise to the former ECHL squad’s game-day routines.
“Ziggy has done so much for so many people that the hockey community has pitched in for one of its own,” said Westmont Hilltop coach Art McQuillan. “The Westmont, Richland and Bishop McCort booster programs are trying to get behind him because Ziggy has done so much for children of our area over the years. I hope the community steps up to the plate to honor Ziggy.”
The charity game will involve a group of former Johnstown Chiefs. Among those, tentatively, is one of the organizers Jean Desrochers, as well as Joe Tallari, Dmitri Tarabrin, Jason Spence and John Bradley, who runs Ziggy’s Sports shop with Zeigler.
Others such as Jim Leger and Mike Rodrigues have expressed interest.
“I think it’s fantastic that this game will be held,” said former Chiefs GM-coach Toby O’Brien, currently a New York Islanders scout who is contacting former players to participate.
“Ziggy’s been such a big part of everything that happens in Johnstown hockey,” O’Brien said. “People don’t know he played a big part in helping get the Chiefs here (in 1988). With everything he’s done for the youth teams and the high school teams, he is part of Johnstown hockey. It’s fantastic that everyone is trying to come together for him.”
Lou Mihalko, an owner of Planet Ice, has been instrumental in organizing the event.
A website, www.ziggysfundraiser.org, is being set up to enable people to purchase tickets. A silent auction also will be held as part of the event. More details will be on posted on the site.
“Ziggy’s got such a following of friends and supporters,” Mihalko said. “Everybody that comes into Planet Ice is asking about him. We’re all trying to get together to help him out.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.
What: Charity hockey game to support Dave “Ziggy” Zeigler, owner of Ziggy’s Sports in Johns-town.
When: 7:30 p.m., June 5.
Where: Planet Ice, Richland Township.
Who: Local hockey celebrities and former Johnstown Chiefs, including Jean Desrochers, Joe Tallari, Dmitri Tarabrin, Jason Spence and John Bradley.