By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Another former Johnstown Chief has advanced to the NHL.
But Chris Stewart made it to the show despite never scoring a goal or making a save. Instead, the Greater Johnstown High graduate contributed to the ECHL organization off the ice as the Chiefs’ athletic trainer for 91/2 seasons.
The NHL Carolina Hurricanes hired Stewart as assistant athletic trainer.
Stewart’s ascent to the NHL actually received a huge lift midway through last season. The American Hockey League’s Lowell Lock Monsters needed a trainer.
Former Chiefs coach Scott Allen was an assistant coach to Lowell head man Tom Rowe. Allen recommended Stewart, who finished the season with Carolina’s AHL affiliate.
“Basically, going to Lowell was a working interview to see if they’d like me or not,” said Stewart, 34. “With Scott Allen’s help, I got up there. Turned out they liked me and offered me the job in Carolina.
“It was pretty much an easy decision. The hardest decision was to initially leave Johnstown to go to the American League and try it. It’s one of those things. If you don’t give this a shot, you may never get another chance.”
Stewart, his wife, Kimberly, and children, Christian, 5, and Rylie, 1, moved to Raleigh, N.C., last weekend.
Stewart joins Westmont Hilltop graduate Dana Heinze as former Chiefs trainers in the NHL. Heinze is assistant equipment manager for the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Heinze was the Chiefs trainer responsible for the locker room and equipment from 1988-92 and 1995-99.
“We open the season with Tampa on the road,” Stewart said. “I’ll get to see them raise the banner down there. I’ll get to feel that experience and see what it’s like. I talked to Dana and he said he’d take care of me when I go down there and I’ll take care of him when he’s up here. We’ll keep the Johnstown connection alive.”
Stewart said the Chiefs organization paved his way to the NHL.
“Starting out with guys like Scott Allen and (GM and former coach) Toby O’Brien, they helped me progress and learn the ropes,” he said. “Scott Allen is a great, stand-up guy who offered me a once-in-a-lifetime chance in Lowell, and I can’t thank him enough for it. It’s a dream come true to be in the NHL.
“Guys like Mic Midderhoff, Chuck Lamberson, Kevin McGeehan and Jim Brazill have been great to work with,” Stewart added of the Chiefs front office and locker room staff. “Knowing all of those guys for seven, eight, nine years, they’ve all been a great part of me getting here. I’ll always be a Chief at heart.”