By MIKE MASTOVICH
The Johnstown Chiefs have a new head coach and a revamped front office.
There’s a new primary owner and an NHL presence in the ownership group.
The roster includes a lot of new names and only a few familiar faces.
By the time the puck is dropped at 7:05 tonight in Columbia, S.C., a new era of Chiefs hockey will be under way.
“I know one thing, this will give us a little bit of an indication of where we are,” said Frank Anzalone, a veteran coach in his first season with Johnstown. “How much depth do we have? Can we handle pressure? It’s their opening night. They’re going to come at us hard with everything they have.
“It’s a long trip for one game. Then jumping back for a long trip home, it’s an indicator of where our passion is and how we can handle it.”
The Chiefs and Columbia Inferno will play the opener at Carolina Coliseum. The team then will bus nine hours overnight to Johnstown for Saturday’s home opener against Reading at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Anzalone has been coaching since the 1980-81 season, with stops in the USHL, NCAA, AHL and ECHL. He previously coached ECHL teams in Nashville (1991-92), Roanoke (1993-98) and Pee Dee (1999-01). The 51-year-old Brooklyn native coached Lake Superior State University to a national championship in 1987-88.
“I’ve been doing it a long time,” Anzalone said. “I thought I would be a little bit more uptight at the Wheeling (exhibition) game. But it didn’t bother me much. We’ve practiced well. We’ve done a lot of things correct in practice. We know what we’re doing. It comes down to the players knowing things and executing the strategy.”
The Chiefs have strong ties to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has ownership interest in Johnstown and also is affiliated with Springfield in the AHL.
Anzalone’s roster has six players under contract to Tampa Bay and two others with Springfield deals.
General Manager Toby O’Brien, who returned to the front office post he held for six seasons until he coached the Chiefs from 2002-05, joined Anzalone in implementing the Lightning’s system. The coach handles the on-ice duties. The GM is responsible for recruiting and off-ice issues.
“It’s been a tremendous camp,” O’Brien said. “Being able to separate everyone’s jobs has allowed me to manage, Frank to coach and the business people to sell. From an operations standpoint, in my 11 years, this is the best camp yet. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.”
Anzalone hadn’t named his starting
goaltender. Third-year Chiefs netminder David Currie has won 29 games during the previous two seasons, and Jon Boutin is a former third-round draft pick of the Lightning.
“I’m leaning toward the veteran, to put Currie in the first night, then come back with Boutin,” Anzalone said.
“It might be good to start with the veteran guy on the road and see how he handles the heat.”
ECHL all-star Jean Desrochers and 32-goal-scorer Joe Tallari are among the key returnees up front.
Randy Rowe is a former Peoria player who used to give the Chiefs fits as an opponent.
Jason Spence adds grit and Steve Cygan, speed, to the forward position. Zbynek Hrdel, Paul Caponigri and Brandon Elliott are other potential impact forwards.
Defensively, Ian Manzano and Brett Peterson return. Jay Rosehill is a Tampa contract player who’s had a strong camp. Doug Andress joined the Chiefs after a trade with Toledo.
“Most of the players all seemed to take their hockey seriously and put a lot into it,” Anzalone said.
“They all seemed to appreciate the direction that we’re going in as an organization.”