By Mike Mastovich
PITTSBURGH – The odds dictated that such a situation was unlikely, if not impossible.
Yet, somehow, on Wednesday five former members of the Johnstown Chiefs organization – three Johnstown natives – celebrated a hockey reunion at Mellon Arena.
They took different routes to the NHL, making stops in the Ivy League, or the AHL, or IHL. But this quintet made it to the top of their game by paying their dues away from the spotlight.
Johnstown’s Penguins are head equipment manager Dana Heinze, head athletic trainer Chris Stewart and assistant trainer Scott Adams. All three got their starts with the Chiefs.
Johnstown’s Lightning personnel includes assistant equipment manager Mic Midderhoff (picured), who broke into the NHL at age 59 after taking the job vacated when Heinze returned to Western Pennsylvania in August, and broadcaster Dave Mishkin, whose energetic, often ear-piercing goal calls made him a regular on ESPN Radio highlights during the Lightning’s Cup run in 2004.
“This doesn’t happen too often when you have a small group of guys who grew up in the same town and had the opportunity to work together,” said Heinze, the first of the group to make it to the NHL, originally with the Lightning. “We’ve all gone our separate ways but we all fell back into the mix together. It’s neat.”
Heinze was with the Chiefs from 1988-92 and 1995-99. He advanced to the former IHL’s Detroit Vipers one season, then moved to Tampa Bay for a six-year stint that included a Stanley Cup run as assistant equipment manager.
The Pens hired Heinze this summer, which led to an opening in Tampa that was filled by Midderhoff, who had been with the Chiefs for 18 seasons and was an ECHL All-Star Game equipment manager.
“It’s a change of pace,” said Midderhoff, a lifelong Johnstown resident who relocated to Tampa. “Basically, it’s still hockey. Guys are basically the same except for the money and bigger and better toys. It’s great that all four of us are here. Dana led the way. All four of us are where we want to be and doing what we want to do.”
Stewart also made the most of his opportunities and good timing. The Johnstown native was promoted to the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters after eight-plus seasons with the Chiefs in November 2004. The next season he was in the NHL as an assistant trainer of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Like Heinze and Yale graduate Mishkin, Stewart was part of a Stanley Cup winner.
Also like Heinze, Stewart brought the Cup to Johnstown, allowing local fans to celebrate with him.
“The transition was pretty simple, a step up as far as the professional part of the job,” Stewart said of his role with the Pens. “Most of the stuff was stuff I was doing in Carolina. It’s just a new environment. We’re just moving along here one game at a time.“It’s good to see Mic over there,” Stewart said, pointing to the Tampa locker room. “He’s waited a while for this. Hopefully he’s enjoying the ride.”
The domino effect continued with Adams, who joined the Chiefs last season in Stewart’s former job. When the Pens added Stewart to their staff, he in turn made Adams his assistant.
“It’s a dream come true to be here and a pretty fortunate situation with Stew and Dana,” Adams said. “It’s interesting having the Johnstown connection in one place. We grew into a big family and it paid dividends in the end.”