The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Breaking News

Mike Mastovich

April 4, 2010

Mike Mastovich: ‘A sad night for Johnstown’

JOHNSTOWN — Scott Allen stood on the New York Islanders bench during Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators.

Long Island and the NHL is about as far from Johnstown and the ECHL as one gets on a sunny afternoon.

During a break in the action, referee Ian Walsh skated to Allen and asked, “You heading to Johnstown tonight?”

Allen responded to the former ECHL ref, “I sure wish I could.”

Moments after the Chiefs lost 5-3 to Elmira in front of 4,017 fans on Saturday night, a telephone in Johnstown equipment manager Mic Midderhoff’s office was being passed from one person to the next. Allen was on the other end, reminiscing and rekindling friendships with people he hadn’t seen in months or even years.

“A sad day,” Allen said, referring to the Chiefs’ relocation to Greenville, S.C., next season.

The feeling filled an arena.

The standing-room-only crowd had a final chance to say goodbye. Season-ticket holders and the regulars occupied the seats. Others who used to come to games all the time but had been away lately made their return.

Former players such as John Bradley, Jean Desrochers and Rick Boyd were there. Former front office mainstays such as Jim Brazill and Kevin McGeehan were on hand. Ex-owner Jim Weber made the trip from Lancaster. Former President Jim Edwards Sr. was in his usual seat. Former Jets were in the house too.

Penguins equipment manager Dana Heinze and athletic trainer Chris Stewart were more fortunate than Allen.

Their afternoon NHL game was played in Pittsburgh, less than a two-hour drive away, and both former Chiefs staffers mingled in the crowd and later camped out in Midderhoff’s office sipping on cool liquid refreshments and telling one story after another.

“I couldn’t miss it,” Heinze said of the game. “Twenty-two years. I was 20 years old when I stood on that bench for Johnstown in the East Coast Hockey League with Steve Carlson and 16 other guys. Just walking in the building, the memories. The stories I could tell. Just to be here is memorable.”

This was a reunion that on most nights would simply be an enjoyable experience.

But this time, no one knew if or when the next Johnstown home game will be played now that the Chiefs are leaving. The little franchise lived on the edge for most of its 22 ECHL seasons and each winter speculation that the team would move seemed to surface. This time, it happened.

Minority owner Ned Nakles made an emotional presentation that lasted nearly 15 minutes before the opening face-off.

“We’re here tonight to pay tribute to the greatest hockey fans on the face of the earth,” Nakles said from center ice with the lights dimmed and the spotlight glaring. “Here in Johnstown we have the tiniest market in the East Coast Hockey League, and we’ve got the smallest arena, but our fans have always had the biggest heart anywhere in hockey.”

Nakles called the Chiefs’ departure a “fork in the road” and added “one part of our Chiefs family is leaving, but for those of us who are staying, we still have some things to keep hope alive.”

With owner Neil Smith and the ECHL’s blessing, Nakles formed a non-profit corporation to maintain the ECHL rights to the Chiefs’ name, history, statistics and memorabilia. His dream is to see the league return to the city in a few years.

“We can step in and begin where we leave off tonight,” he continued. “If that never happens, at least our history, our logo and our name will stay here with us in Johnstown where it belongs.”

A banner, “Hockey’s Greatest Fans” 1988-2010 then was unfurled.

Appropriately, a recording of the late W. Robert Paul singing the national anthem was played. Paul sang the anthem for the Chiefs first game and was immensely talented and beloved by the local fans.

For the most part, the on-ice portion of the game, like so many others this season, was forgettable. Elmira built a four-goal lead. Two late tallies by the Chiefs made it close.

“It’s a sad night for Johnstown,” said Bradley, the former Johnstown goaltender who won 37 games. “Everybody that played here or came to a game, there are a lot of memories in this building, not just hockey-wise. Some of the guys that came here to play stayed and raised a family here and made Johnstown their home, including me. To me, this is one of the greatest places in the world. Without coming to Johnstown to play a couple hockey games, I wouldn’t have a wife and kids.

“Same thing with Galen Head and Rick Boyd and others. It’s a special place. That’s why we call it home.”

There still were plenty of special moments in this final home game.

The crowd chanted for its team despite the big deficit and had mixed success in doing the wave.

The Varmecky family was seen waving its large gold flag with a black letter “J” as often as possible. The Party Pit rocked throughout the night.

Chuck White, a devoted statistician for decades of Chiefs and Jets hockey, quietly waved, choking back tears as he walked out of the press box. The small moments, it seemed, mattered the most on this night.

A long-distance relationship also was renewed. The rowdy and creative bunch sitting in the top rows of Section 10 had for years strategically waited for the right “quiet” moment each game to yell, “Hi, Mike!” to me in the press box. They’d receive an enthusiastic wave back in return. The tradition waned in recent years as Section 10’s seats often were empty.

But on Saturday in the third period, there was the loud yell, “Hi, Mike!”

This time, I stood up and waved goodbye.

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat who has covered the Chiefs for the past 19 seasons.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mike Mastovich
  • Mastovich, Mike Mike Mastovich | Juniors bring fresh flavor to 61st Amateur

    The Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions has attracted some of the best young golfers in the game during the past six decades.
    Tiger Woods was a teenager when he played the Sunnehanna Country Club course.

    June 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mastovich, Mike MIKE MASTOVICH| Simon aiming for second life

    Geroy Simon never allowed obstacles or naysayers’ opinions to deter him throughout a career as the most prolific receiver in the history of the Canadian Football League.
    So, when Geroy says the primary goal in his post-playing career is to become a general manager, it probably isn’t wise to bet against the Greater Johnstown High School graduate.

    June 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike color.JPG MIKE MASTOVICH| Huskies hot again this season

    Cosie Aliquo heard people talking about how talented his Bishop Carroll boys’ basketball team is this season.
    He’s read the preseason news clippings and certainly noticed that the Huskies were ranked third in the state in one Class A preseason poll.

    December 14, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike MIKE MASTOVICH| Shaffer revitalizes Richland's passing game

    Two years ago, Brandon Bailey saw potential in a tall, strong-armed quarterback looking to establish himself in the Richland High program.
    Matt Shaffer was a sophomore splitting the quarterback duties with classmate Nico Pecora back then.

    November 6, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike MIKE MASTOVICH | Berlin's Fochtman rushing into lead

    Braden Fochtman always seems to be in a rush on the football field.
    How else do you explain his area-best 1,042 rushing yards through five weeks of the scholastic season?
    But the Berlin Brothersvalley sophomore back actually has been a much more patient runner this season, and that’s made a significant difference to the undefeated Mountaineers’ success.

    October 3, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike color.JPG MIKE MASTOVICH| Experienced players valuable for Meyersdale

    Gavin Berkley will make his 34th career start when undefeated Meyersdale hosts once-beaten Portage on Friday night.
    The Red Raiders senior two-way standout has experienced plenty of highs and lows during the past three-plus seasons.

    September 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike MIKE MASTOVICH| Rule waiver soothes concerns

    Dean Albany felt a sense of baseball relief late Wednesday night.
    For days, even weeks, the Youse’s Maryland Orioles of Baltimore GM had pondered the possibility of life without the the AAABA Tournament this summer and perhaps beyond.

    July 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike.JPG MIKE MASTOVICH| Hot times for two AAABA League teams

    Two AAABA League franchises have heated up as the temperatures soared this month.
    The Berkley Hills Renegades beat First Commonwealth 11-1 on Wednesday, the defending champs’ seventh consecutive victory.
    Manager Larry McCabe’s team has won 11 of its past 12 games and now has a 22-12 record, good for second place and 31⁄2 games behind league-leading Delweld.

    July 17, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike MIKE MASTOVICH| Shirley lifting Renegades

    Jason Shirley provides the Berkley Hills Renegades with offensive punch and speed on the base paths, a combination that will be important if the defending champions are to challenge for a spot atop the AAABA League standings.
    Shirley is batting a league-high .458 (22-for-48) through 22 games. The Youngstown State University product also has eight stolen bases in nine attempts.

    July 10, 2013 1 Photo

  • mastovich, mike MIKE MASTOVICH | Mazey scholarship continues legacy

    Forrest Mazey was a fixture at Point Stadium and baseball diamonds throughout the region.

    July 3, 2013 1 Photo


What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads