Throughout most of his 18 years, Cody Boyd had heard his father talk about that memorable January night in 1988.
Rick Boyd was among the original Johnstown Chiefs, a rough-and-tumble group organized in the middle of the All-American Hockey League season that year.
Those first Chiefs were heroes and celebrities in Johnstown. They set the foundation for the franchise’s 22-season run in the ECHL.
Rick Boyd’s account of that first Chiefs game at Cambria County War Memorial has been told and written about many times.
The former Chiefs captain and his teammates couldn’t believe the response and devotion Johnstown hockey fans gave this hastily assembled team. Rick Boyd fell in love with the city, married a Johnstown girl and raised a family here.
Nearly a quarter century later, Cody Boyd had a chance to repeat family history.
The Johnstown native is part of the Johnstown Tomahawks NAHL Junior A Tier II team that debuted on home ice Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 3,721.
Like his dad, Cody Boyd was overwhelmed by the turnout and response of the hockey-starved fans who now have a team of their own for the first time since the Chiefs moved to South Carolina in 2010.
“He built it up pretty big and it was bigger,” Cody Boyd said of the experience of sprinting though the tunnel and skating onto the ice for the first time in front of the Tomahawks fans.
“I couldn’t stand. I was so nervous, I was walking around in the locker room trying to kill time. Butterflies in my stomach. When I finally hit the ice and heard all the fans, it was the greatest feeling I could ever have.”
The Tomahawks gave the crowd plenty to cheer about, but eventually lost 3-2 in an overtime shootout.
“It was one of a kind,” Cody Boyd said. “You’ll never get that in another rink, playing in front of all the people back home. It was great, 4,000 people screaming, it was great.”
The whole day was a celebration.
Perhaps appropriately, a construction crew worked on the Napoleon Street Bridge replacement project late Saturday afternoon.
Workers operated heavy machinery and cement moved up a chute and onto the the new portion of the bridge. Half a block away, a different type of heavy metal could be heard as the band “Day Well Spent” played outside the War Memorial Arena.
Hundreds of people gathered for HockeyFest in conjunction with the home opener.
“To go out there before the game and see 2,000 people on the sidewalk was fantastic,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said.
Saturday almost represented a hockey bridge from the pro game and the Chiefs to the junior game and the Tomahawks.
Many former Chiefs fans and season ticket holders reunited on Napoleon Street. Former Chiefs and NHL equipment manager Mic Midderhoff stopped by, and former Chiefs President Jim Edwards Sr. was there.
The big blue bird Chopper – the Tomahawks’ mascot – schmoozed with mascots Mister Froggy and a Subway sandwich.
People wearing Tomahawks attire joined those in Chiefs and Penguins jerseys. Some wore No. 66 in honor of Penguins Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, who dropped the ceremonial first puck.
“(Lemieux) came in and said some words to us before the game, which was pretty cool,” said Tomahawks forward Brandon Reinholz, who scored a goal and a knockout punch during a fight with Michigan’s Garrett Procahazk. “He just said to go out there and have fun and good luck.”
Once on the ice, the players and fans witnessed one of the most spectacular pyrotechnic events in War Memorial history, with fireworks, explosions, smoke and flames filling all ends of the arena.
“Our staff did a good job of preparing us so we did a dress rehearsal after a practice,” Spence said. “Everybody was ready for it but I don’t think anybody was expecting something that spectacular.
“With the fireworks and everything it was like the NHL. Fantastic.”
The Tomahawks didn’t win the game, but they took a big step toward winning the heart of a city.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.