April 15, 2013
Playing in Johnstown
When the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL played in Johnstown the team found it hard to get the best players to come to Johnstown, which kept the Chiefs from ever winning a championship in the city. Many times the Chiefs had players that didn't report to their club when being sent down. One of those players is current NHLer David Desharnais. At the time, Desharnais was in the Tampa Bay organization and had the choice to come to Johnstown to begin his pro career or go back to juniors. He decided to go back to juniors. The next season, after becoming of age, went to the Cincinnati Cyclones where in 68 games he scored 106 points , leading the team to a Kelly Cup Championship.
One of the reasons Johnstown wasn't a place that players wanted to come to was the weather. With teams located in California and Florida, who wouldn't want to play in a warm weather city. Another reason was because of the night life. Johnstown is a small town and of course lacks a lot of the big or bigger city elements. Also, players love to play in front of big crowds, and in the last few years in Johnstown, crowds were getting smaller and smaller.
Then Bouchard and company rolled into town and made Johnstown the place to play. Night life? When you're team is made up of 16-21 year olds, most can't legally have a night life, plus with team rules, there's a curfew. Location? Junior hockey is all about the love of the game and doing everything you can to get to the next level. If you there's a spot open at the North Pole, you better believe that players will try to make that team, to help push them towards their dreams in hockey.
The players this season would come to Johnstown, but there's a difference between just having a team of players and having a team of players that want to play here. The team during it's first season was able to build a rock hard foundation on and off the ice. Hiring Jason Spence as the team's first head coach. He was a fan favorite in Johnstown when he played for the Chiefs because of his hard noised, hard working approach, and that's the type of team he built.
The front office, led by Rick Boyd and Jean Desrochers, both former players in Johnstown as well, new all they had to do is get people in the building to see one game and they'd be hooked. Also, they knew exactly what worked in Johnstown and what didn't.
From the first game of the season the fans of Johnstown took to the team, it's players, coaches, the staff and ownership. Players walked around the city, and people knew who they were. For a young kid, it's a great experience, to feel what it's like, or could be like, as a pro. On the ice, the team was tough and hard to play against.
"I knew the fans were awesome out here and it's my style of hockey. Hard nose grinding, making other teams scared to play us” said Tomahawks' first year defenseman Dakota Menslage, about why he signed a tender with the Tomahawks. Johnstown was fifth in the league this season in attendance and had the best attendance in the North Division. Johnstown averaged 2,527 fans per game this season.
In comparison, Michigan averaged 1,014, Springfield 927, Janesville 798, Soo 671, Jamestown 667, Port Huron 619, and Kalamazoo 327. Lower leagues are smaller than that. So this is the first time for many players to experience playing in front of big crowds, with great atmospheres and when talking to a few players that's their favorite memory of playing in Johnstown this season. “Well the fans of Johnstown are amazing, they show so much support which helps a lot and means a lot. I'd saying running out on the ice seeing all the fans was the best part” said Menslege.
His teammate Mitch Hall who started the season in Jamestown had the same thoughts, “ (My) most memorable moment was probably (my) first home game. Skating out In front of the best fans junior hockey has to offer is something I'll never forget.” Having great fans isn't the only thing that will separate Johnstown from the rest of the pack, also it's talent on the ice.
In his first 22 games of the season with Jamestown, Hall, scored three points, but upon arriving in Johnstown for the second half of the season, saw his numbers climb to thirteen points in 24 games. "I have to give the credit to my team mates. The amount of skill our forwards have make it easy. As defenseman we just have to get them the puck and they do the rest of the work.”
This was talent Johnstown had before the league understood just what kind of hockey was going on in Johnstown. Many players from different teams within the league and many more around junior hockey have expressed that they'd love a chance to play in Johnstown next season. One of the players hoping to return next season is Hall. " I haven't put that much thought into my plans. But once I get home I will be starting my summer training and coming back to Johnstown next season, hopefully to win the Robertson cup!”
Another player that's looking to come back next season and be the go to guy in net for Johnstown is Colin Brennan. "My plans for next season consists of coming back to Johnstown. I love being a Tomahawk and playing for the people of Johnstown. We have great fans and they deserve the best out of us. We have a lot of talent coming back and in next season, and I look forward to being a key contributed and leader next season."
The tide is or already has turned in Johnstown. The days of only being able to get some of the talent might be a thing of the past, because Johnstown seems to becoming the premier place to play, and as a fan that's something to be extremely excited about.