Johnstown, Pa. — Top hockey players will be attending tryout camps across the United States this summer in hopes of sticking with a junior team capable of leading them to the next level. Among the most intriguing tryout camp destinations could be the three scheduled by the North American Hockey League’s Johnstown Tomahawks.
The Tomahawks, one of three new NAHL teams beginning play in 2012-13, announced their relocation to the blue-collar western Pennsylvania city in early May. Formerly the Alaska Avalanche, the franchise is coming off their best performance to date — a solid 35-19-6 season ending with a semifinals playoff appearance.
The move to Johnstown adds several other reasons for excitement for potential players, according to Tomahawks general manager Rick Boyd.
“With the Tomahawks, players have the chance to be a part of something special. There’s a lot of interest and excitement that surrounds a new team, and that’s a unique opportunity for players. It’s something most never have the chance to experience.”
Boyd should know. He played 24 games for the Johnstown Chiefs of the All-American Hockey league during their inaugural 1987-88 season. A year later, the Chiefs jumped to the newly formed ECHL, where they remained as the league’s last original member until relocating to South Carolina after the 2009-10 season. In total, Boyd played parts of six seasons in Johnstown.
“Johnstown has always had a strong appetite for hockey,” he said. “The city has been without a team of its own for two years now, and the people here can’t wait to see their new team take the ice. It’s going to be an incredible atmosphere for our players.”
When the Tomahawks finally take the ice for their home fans this fall, they’ll do so in the historic Cambria County War Memorial. The 4,000-seat arena has been home to several pro hockey teams since its construction in the 1950s, but it is best known as the home of the Charlestown Chiefs in the 1977 movie “Slap Shot.”
The cult-favorite hockey comedy starring Paul Newman was filmed in Johnstown and based on the exploits of the Johnstown Jets, who played in the arena from 1950 to 1977.
“The building looks much different today,” Boyd said, “but you can still recognize it in the movie. It’s a real thrill for players to say they played in the same rink where the Hanson Brothers were born.”
Even with such a unique place in hockey history, the team is more focused on the future of hockey in Johnstown. Backed by a solid ownership group in Johnstown Sports Partners LLC, the Tomahawks have the resources and the will to make hockey thrive in Johnstown once again.
The group, led by Esmark Inc. founder James Bouchard, also includes former All-Pro NFL linebacker Shane Conlan and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, a Johnstown native. Conlan was also a standout at nearby Penn State University, which will begin its new NCAA hockey program this fall.
Robert Morris University in nearby Pittsburgh also boasts an NCAA hockey program, making Johnstown an attractive and convenient location for college scouts.
“There’s no doubt that Johnstown’s location makes it a great place for players seeking a college scholarship. As an organization, we’re going to be committed to helping our players advance and giving our fans a great product on the ice,” Boyd said.
The Tomhawks will begin their player search in Pittsburgh June 15-17 with the first of three scheduled tryout camps. Additional tryouts will be held in Prior Lake, Minn., July 6-8 and in Farmingdale, N.J., July 13-15.
Registration for the camps is $250. The camps are open to players ages 16-20. Players can sign-up online at www.JohnstownTomahawks.com. For information, call (814) 536-GOAL.