The puck drops here.
At least that’s what the Johnstown Tomahawks have in mind for former Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins forward Bill Guerin.
Guerin will drop the ceremonial first puck and help the Tomahawks face off their second North American Hockey League Tier II Junior A season at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Sept. 14.
“We couldn’t have found a better person to do this,” said Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard after Thursday’s announcement. “With Bill’s character, he’s a great influence to young men who are trying to move on in their hockey careers.”
Last season, the Tomahawks played their first home game in front of a sellout crowd as Penguins Hall of Fame owner Mario Lemieux dropped the ceremonial first puck.
The Tomahawks’ ownership group and Penguins have a solid relationship that resulted in multiple cooperative efforts. Penguins Matt Cooke and Chris Kuntiz signed autographs for hours during a Tomahawks game. Pens mascot Iceburgh made an appearance. Former Pittsburgh player and current broadcaster Phil Bourque was at a meet-and-greet event prior to last season.
A group of locked out Penguins players had agreed to participate in a charity game at the War Memorial, but plans were scrapped days before the sold-out event when the NHL lockout ended.
“The relationship between the Penguins and Tomahawks and our ownership group is very strong,” Bouchard said. “When we talked to Bill about doing this he was more than happy to come and show his support of what the Tomahawks are doing with hockey in western Pennsylvania.”
Guerin, 42, joined the Penguins late during the 2008-09 season and helped the Sidney Crosby-led team win its first Stanley Cup in 17 years and third overall. The right wing retired a year later after an 18-year career that included two Stanley Cup wins. He is in his third season as a player development coach for the Penguins.
“The idea has always been to bring an entertainment value to our hockey fans in Johnstown,” Tomahawks General Manager Rick Boyd said. “A guy like Bill Guerin exemplifies what Johnstown hockey is all about with his demeanor and his style. It’s another exciting time for the Tomahawks and their fans.”
Boyd said Guerin brought intangibles to the Pittsburgh lineup and helped the team take the next step after losing to Detroit in the 2008 Cup Final.
“The key word to Bill Guerin is leadership,” Boyd said. “When the Penguins made a move to bring him in, it was to solidify their leadership in the locker room. Obviously he could play the game and he played a tough, gritty style. The passion and leadership he brought to the Penguins was the most important thing.”
The home portion of the Tomahawks’ season will once again begin at 5 p.m. Sept. 14 with a HockeyFest on Napoleon Street adjacent to the War Memorial. Last year, 2,000 fans participated in the pregame event, which included food, music and other activities.
The Tomahawks will face the Port Huron Fighting Falcons at 7:30 p.m., following an indoor fireworks display.
“The exciting part is that our entire organization did a fabulous job of recruiting,” Boyd said. “Not only do we have some good veterans coming back, but we also have some really exciting young guys coming into their first year of Junior and you’re going to see some of these guys on the first or second line in their first year.”
Boyd listed new forwards Shane Bernard, Collin Finkhouse, Joe Drabin and Trevor Recktenwald as potential scorers. Defensemen Alex Jaeckle, Brady Bender and Ryan Bittner are top additions as well as experienced goaltender Alex O’Kicki from the former Kalamazoo team.
“One of the things we wanted to improve in the offseason was getting guys who can score goals,” Boyd said. “We potentially have four power-play lines dressing every night. Some teams in the league they have guys they have to hide in the lineup. We have four lines, six defensemen and two goalies we can dress every night and we don’t have to hide.”
The Tomahawks continue to be community oriented. The team is in the middle of a 30-day stretch in which players interact with the community through visits to hospitals, schools, festivals or by personally delivering season tickets.
“It’s been fantastic. I couldn’t be more pleased,” Bouchard said. “We promised from the very first day that we’d be out in the community and promoting youth hockey and doing what we can in schools and hospitals. From our veterans to our rookies, they’re more than willing to be involved. It shows what class that these young men have at such a young age.”
Bouchard believes the commitment and passion will carry over to the ice.
“We’re really looking forward to the second season,” Bouchard said. “We want to take our hockey to the next level and try to win the Robertson Cup. We think we’ve put together a real strong squad and I think the people of Johnstown are going to be happy.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.