By Brian Compton
When the Johnstown Chiefs’ agreement with the Tampa Bay Lightning expired at the end of last season, it created a head coaching vacancy in the small Western Pennsylvania town.
Chiefs owner Jim Weber wanted someone who would properly represent the hard-working people of Johnstown – the type of person with the ability to pick himself up and dust himself off in the face of setbacks and hardship.
Enter Ian Herbers.
Herbers, 39, may very well be the poster boy for perseverance. In 1993, Herbers conquered a lifelong dream. He was in uniform on opening night for his hometown Edmonton Oilers, playing in his first National Hockey League game. He lasted with his favorite team for another 21 contests before being sent down to Cape Breton of the American Hockey League.
He didn’t play in another NHL game until 1999. But the fact that Herbers never gave up, the fact that he continued to chase his dream, is a testament to the kind of attitude that Chiefs fans should expect come October.
“I guess I’ve always been a student of the game,” said Herbers, who appeared in 37 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 1999-2000 season before being dealt to the New York Islanders on March 9, 2000. “My skills were limited, so I had to understand the game well to get as far as I did.
All of the time in the NHL was my favorite moment. Opening night, with the Edmonton Oilers, in my hometown, was pretty special.”
Herbers appeared in six games for the Islanders, but was left off the team’s protected list that summer and wound up being selected by the Minnesota Wild in the expansion draft. He never played in another NHL game.
Nonetheless, his experiences will be invaluable for ECHL players who are trying to scratch and claw their way to the sport’s highest level.
“I think it’s definitely going to be helpful,” Herbers said. “Obviously, I’ll understand the situation a lot of these guys are going through with my background. I worked my way up to the NHL, and it wasn’t something that was easy.
“It took time and effort for me to earn my opportunities. That’s something I’ll pass down to the players. A lot of it is you’ve just got to make sure you’re ready and prepared for when that opportunity does arise. You’ve got to take full advantage of it.”