Welcome to Johnstown, Tomahawks
Johnstown is no metropolis. If you’ve been here, you know this.
With a mill industry that climaxed in the 1970s and a rapidly declining economy ever since, the city can be quite depressing during the dog days of winter.
And, while the storied Chiefs of the ECHL rarely played in front of a capacity crowd, their departure to greener pastures in the south two seasons ago was just another stresser for the locals.
But Johnstown never officially lost hockey, as the Chiefs’ once-rivals, the Wheeling Nailers, took advantage of an opening to play a dozen or so games in the “Flood City” each of the last two seasons.
Still, it wasn’t the same.
Local news coverage was spotty, relaying information only immediately before and after a game and advertising for the Johnstown portion of the Nailers’ schedule was all but non-existent in town.
Even hardcore hockey fans such as myself found it difficult to adopt the Nailers.
Really, it was quite a shame, as Johnstown always proclaimed itself to be a hockey town with educated and passionate fans.
But good news came earlier this year when it was announced that the NAHL, a second tier junior league, was relocating its Anchorage franchise to Johnstown.
If there is one thing the locals are more passionate about than hockey, so they say, it’s amateur sports. After all, Johnstown is the permanent home to the well-established AAABA baseball tournament that has produced many major leaguers.
So amateur hockey seemed a natural fit — and if presented properly, it will be.
You see, one of the problems with the two ECHL teams to call the War Memorial home during recent years is that their ticket pricing was prohibitive for the typical Johnstowner. Heck, even I failed to attend games on a regular basis, as I couldn’t justify spending $28 for my wife and I to see what almost suredly would be a loss.
Now the Tomahawks are in town and have introduced tiered pricing commonly seen in professional sports. Instead of paying one flat rate regardless of seat location, fans now have the option of paying more for better sight lines and slightly less for the not-so-special seats.
I’ve always felt that lower ticket prices would get more fans in the door, and with more fans on hand, more concessions and merchandise would be sold.
And so it began last night, with the Tomahawks’ home opener, albeit two full weeks into the season.
While the final score was quite familiar to Johnstown hockey fans — a 3-2 shootout loss — the atmosphere was different.
Maybe it was the appearance of hockey legend and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who dropped the ceremonial first puck. Maybe it was the hockeyfest event held all day bringing the team and the fans together as one. Or maybe it was simply appreciating the opportunity to restore what many thought was permanently gone.
Regardless of the reason, the high-intensity crowd was something rarely seen in the days of the Chiefs, and never seen during the Nailers’ part-time stay.
Quite literally, it was chill-educing and a thing of beauty.
It’ll be up to the Tomahawk management to keep up the excitement, but day one of this new era certainly was encouraging.
So I think I speak for many when I say “Welcome to Johnstown. I’m a fan.”