The Johnstown Tomahawks have only been playing for four months, but they’ve already made a bit of hockey history in a city loaded with it.
Tickets for the Tomahawks Charity Classic, which will feature players from the Junior A Tier II club as well as locked-out National Hockey League players, sold out in seven minutes on Friday morning, according to the Tomahawks.
“It was probably the fastest sellout in 72 years of hockey in Johnstown, from what I’ve been told,” said Jean Desrochers, the Tomahawks director of business operations.
Tom Grenell, acting general manager of Cambria County War Memorial Arena, said it’s the fastest sellout in the history of the 63-year-old building, which now seats about 4,000.
Grenell knew that the $25 tickets would be in demand, so he allowed fans to stay in the arena lobby overnight so they wouldn’t have to wait outside in the cold to get tickets for the game, which is expected to feature nine members of the Penguins as well as former Penguin Jordan Staal.
Fans such as Ashlyn Devlin and Carrie Rager took full advantage of the opportunity.
The 16-year-olds from Ferndale were first in line, as they arrived at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Devlin, who describes herself as “a diehard Pens fan,” couldn’t contain her excitement upon finding out that some of her favorite players are going to hit the ice in Johnstown.
“I literally threw my phone,” she said.
Amanda Pribulsky, 22, of Ferndale, had just as much trouble controlling her emotions.
“I literally squealed,” Pribulsky said, noting that such a reaction was frowned upon in the restaurant where she was working.
Pribulsky and Ashley Layton, 21, of Johnstown, arrived an hour later than Devlin and Rager, but still had to find ways to keep themselves entertained for 11 hours.
“I played cards, painted my nails, played on my phone,” Layton said. “I didn’t sleep at all.”
Curtis Hankins, 28, drove an hour and a half from his home in Brookville, Jefferson County, and got in line at midnight. The tickets weren’t just for him, however. He planned to bring his brother and girlfriend with him.
“I think my girlfriend’s more excited than me,” he said. “She never liked hockey before, but I brought her to a Tomahawks game last month.”
The people who waited in line all night walked away happy, but not all of the fans who tried to get tickets were pleased about the demand. A number of people commented on The Tribune-Democrat’s Facebook page that they could not order tickets online through Ticketmaster.
Bob Kormanik, 70, of Geistown, said that he tried to buy tickets online, but couldn’t.
“At 10:00, there were no tickets available,” said Kormanik, who then came to the arena to try to buy tickets in person.
“How could they sell 4,000 tickets by then? They want to promote events in Johnstown and then things like this happen.”
Some presale tickets were available on Thursday, although the Tomahawks did not say how many.
“We gave priority to season-ticket holders and sponsors,” Desrochers said. “We encourage people to be part of the Tomahawks family and to be season-ticket holders and take advantage of the benefits.”
The remainder of the tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Friday. Grenell said that 70 percent of the tickets sold on Friday were allotted for customers who came to the arena.
The other 30 percent were sold online or via phone.
So while the game was “sold out” shortly after 10 a.m., fans at the arena who had already been in line were still able to get tickets a half-hour later. It was estimated that between 200 and 300 fans came to the arena, although not all of them were able to purchase tickets.
Desrochers said he understood that some fans were upset at missing out on the game, which benefits the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation-Haiti and the Johnstown Tomahawks Foundation, but that he didn’t receive too much negative feedback.
“For the most part, it was positive,” he said. “It was disappointing for people who are not able to go to this game. That just signifies how significant this game is.”
Grenell also heard from some upset fans, but said that the event is great for the Tomahawks, the arena and the city of Johnstown.
“We take the criticism to heart. We take it seriously,” he said.
“However, I stand very proudly as a representative of the arena. We supported the people that stepped up and bought in (by coming to the arena early).”
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