By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Two months ago, Mike Betz was nowhere near the ice.
Actually, the new Johnstown Chiefs goaltender was about as far removed from hockey as possible.
No pucks. No sticks. No goal cages. No wins or losses.
Unless you count the work that the 24-year-old Pittsburgh native did with underprivileged children in Sierra Leone in Western Africa.
“I was there until the end of December,” said Betz, who made his first start in 18 months during the Chiefs’ 5-4 overtime shootout loss to visiting Dayton on Feb. 11.
“It was a mission to the Catholic Church. It was volunteering in a residential home for street children. I stayed there for four months. There were 61 street kids. We provided schooling, housing, food, shelter and clothes for them.”
Betz isn’t your typical ECHL goaltender.
He speaks some Swahili. He’s been on three different missions in Africa. Betz was a CCHA Goaltender of the Year at Ohio State University but also distinguished himself as a winner of the Ilitch Humanitarian Award.
“He’s an intricate guy,” Chiefs coach Frank Anzalone said. “He’s got some deep thoughts on some issues.”
While playing junior hockey in Sioux City, Iowa, Betz became involved in Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries (STEMM). The organization worked with underprivileged high school-aged children in Tanzania, a country with almost no public schooling.
The group sponsored more than 350 kids who otherwise had no means to pay for an education.
On another tour, Betz helped build a barn for an orphanage and constructed blackboards for several schools.
One orphanage had no beds for the kids, a limited food supply and a latrine that was overflowing.
Through the Ohio State hockey community, enough funds were raised to obtain beds, build a chicken coop with 200 chickens and install a new latrine.
That might not sound very substantial to most of us, but in Tanzania, Betz and his fellow missionaries made a huge impact on many young lives.
Betz holds Ohio State University’s all-time win record at 73. He was the CCHA Goaltender of the Year in 2002-03 after winning 20 games for the second straight season.
Last year Betz appeared in and lost one game for the ECHL’s Fresno Falcons. He was on the Wheeling Nailers’ roster this season before the Chiefs acquired him.
“This is out of the blue,” said Betz, who had 44 saves and stopped two of five shootout attempts. “This is my first game in almost 18 months now. The first period, I don’t know if you’d call it nerves or just a little bit of excitement. I just tried to get adjusted to the difference between practice and the game.”
Anzalone’s initial report on Betz was positive, though the coach wants to see more.
“I will not evaluate Betz on one game,” Anzalone said. “He played a pretty good game. He looked like a goalie that is capable of playing. He did a great job.”