The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

January 24, 2013

Jack Ham on Tomahawks: ‘I’m glad to be involved’

JOHNSTOWN — Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham is revered throughout western Pennsylvania and especially in his hometown of Johnstown for his role as part of the Steel Curtain defense.

Ham and his Steelers teammates won four Super Bowls and earned the label of a dynasty.

A younger generation might know Ham better as part of the Penn State Sports Network football broadcast team. “The Hammer” was a three-year starter and an All-American for the Nittany Lions.

Football is Ham’s game.

So is hockey.

Last year, Ham joined the NAHL’s Johnstown Tomahawks as a minority owner. The team will honor the Bishop McCort High School graduate on Jan. 31 during Jack Ham Bobblehead Night. The first 1,000 fans entering the War Memorial for a 7 p.m. game against Port Huron will receive Ham’s likeness, which features him wearing a Tomahawks white uniform with red and blue stripes. Ham holds a football in his left hand and a hockey stick in his right.

“It’s very nice, especially coming back to my hometown,” Ham said Wednesday afternoon.

Ham also will drop the ceremonial first puck prior to the game.

The promotion is the latest in a long list of creative and community-oriented events the Tomahawks have held during their inaugural season.

Penguins owner and Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux dropped the first puck at the home opener, which was preceded by a Hockeyfest that attracted 2,000 fans outside the arena. The infamous Hanson Brothers made an appearance.

Penguins Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke spent hours signing autographs and posing for photos on the same night the Stanley Cup was on display.

New Year’s Eve, Kids Night and Johnstown Hockey Heritage Night also were successes.

The organization nearly pulled off another big event, but the end of the NHL lockout wiped out a scheduled exhibition that would have brought more than 10 Pittsburgh Penguins to Johnstown for a game that sold out in seven minutes.

Ham isn’t surprised by the team’s success on and off the ice.

He knows majority owner Jim Bouchard, a successful Pittsburgh businessman.

“No. 1, it starts at the top,” Ham said. “Jim Bouchard, I’ve known him for  quite a while. Johnstown has been a hockey town since the time I grew up with the Jets and skating at the War Memorial when I was a kid. Hockey has been a big part of the fabric of Johnstown.

“It’s good they’re supporting this hockey team. The team’s getting involved in the community is paramount. It’s not just the product on the ice. You’ve  got to get involved in the community. It’s a class organization from top to the bottom.”

Bouchard welcomed Ham and another former Penn State All-American/NFL star, Shane Conlan, as minority owners during the summer.

Ham stressed that his involvement in team matters doesn’t extend to on-ice or front office moves.

“I’m a minority owner and I’m a fan,” he said, laughing. “They make great management decisions by not letting me make management decisions.

“I’m a hockey fan. I’m glad to be involved, especially with bringing a team to Johnstown and the War Memorial. I’m glad Jim was able to make that happen. Day to day, though, I’m a cheerleader.”

Ham also appreciates the mission of the Tier II Junior A team comprised mostly of players age 18 to 20. The Tomahawks and other prospects in the NAHL try to earn NCAA scholarships.

“I used to go back to Johnstown to watch the Jets when I was playing here in Pittsburgh,” Ham said. “The Johnstown team came up here (Pittsburgh) to watch a Penguins game way back when. I sat in front of those guys. Collectively there might have been 32 teeth from the whole bunch of guys. They were a tough group.

“These guys with the Tomahawks, their careers are in front of them,” Ham added. “The enthusiasm with which they play, it should be a fun thing to watch. I’m looking forward to watching the guys play and down the road to see these guys and where they end up.”

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