By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The Johnstown Chiefs organization has marketed its on-ice product as quality family entertainment at an affordable price.
The Tallari family has proven the Chiefs’ point nearly 900 miles and a 22-hour drive away in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
On game nights, Salvatore and Patricia Tallari turn on their computer to watch the Chiefs on the Internet. If the visual feed is unavailable, the Tallaris listen to Chiefs play-by-play man John Michael’s call of the game online.
Often, three of the Tallari children, Elisa, 28, Michael, 21, and David, 18, take in the ECHL action.
This family’s long-distance relationship with the Chiefs has solid roots.
Johnstown rookie forward Joe Tallari has been one of the Chiefs’ bright spots during a trying stretch of near misses and frustrating setbacks.
“I left home when I was 17 years old. My family knew I had a dream,” said Joe Tallari, 24, a Niagara University product who was a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award in 2003. “They gave me the OK to go ahead. My mother said, ‘Joe, go for your dreams. Do whatever you can and don’t worry about us. We’re behind you the whole way.’ It’s good to know you have a foundation like that.
“They listen to every game. I call after every game. The whole family gets together and watches the games. It brings them together. I’m glad I can do that.”
Tallari also has given Chiefs fans something positive to watch.
The right wing-center has tallied at least a point in eight of the past 11 games. He has nine goals, two assists and 11 points during that span.
Tallari is a plus-5 since Feb. 15, quite a feat considering the Chiefs are on an 0-6-2 skid that included four one-goal setbacks.
“Toby O’Brien has really believed in me and he’s given me a lot of opportunities,” Tallari said of the Chiefs coach. “I’m thankful for that.”
Tallari has adapted to the pro game, taking on a harder mental edge and even stepping up the physical end.
He’s not a fighter and certainly won’t goon it up, but Tallari isn’t a pushover either.
“I’ve had talks with Toby about what it takes to get to the next level,” the 6-0 and 195-pound Tallari said. “You just can’t get by scoring goals. A guy pushes me, I’ve got to push back and tell him you can’t push me around.”
The 19-24-13 Chiefs (51 points) are 16 points out of the North Division’s final playoff spot. Seventh-place Johnstown needs to pass at least three teams for a postseason berth.
With only 16 games remaining, the Chiefs need a miracle to reach the postseason.
But Tallari said the Chiefs can’t afford to approach the matter from such a perspective.
“I’m focused on making sure things go better,” Tallari said. “If everyone shows up and does what they do best, then making the playoffs is a possibility.”
At Niagara, Tallari played right wing, scoring 60 goals and 124 points. His junior season he had 26 goals and 55 points in 34 games to lead the CHA in scoring.
The jump to the ECHL taught Tallari how to improve his stamina and mind-set.
He’s also shuffled linemates because of call-ups, injuries and a trade.
Tallari began the season centering a “rookie line” of three college standouts. ECHL All-Star Jean Desrochers of Clarkson University and Harvard graduate Dennis Packard complemented Tallari on the wings.
But Packard was called up to the AHL, and after O’Brien traded Steve Hildenbrand to Pee Dee for Brian Collins, Tallari moved to the wing with Collins at center and Desrochers on the left side.
Tallari recently shifted back to center with Desrochers and Chris Leinweber, a defenseman who has moved to forward. That switch happened after Collins was placed on a line with AHL contract player Scott Dobben and Shawn Mather.
But this week, Dobben was recalled by AHL Cleveland. The lines will change by the time the Chiefs play Atlantic City on Friday at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
“I know what I can do and what I can bring to the team,” Tallari said. “At the beginning of the year I was trying to feel things out. I definitely did mature on the ice and off the ice. I think a lot of the players have matured as well.”