By Mike Mastovich
For The Tribune-Democrat
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Twenty years is practically an eternity in the lifespan of an ECHL team, so assembling the Johnstown Chiefs’ 20th anniversary team was a task not taken lightly by The Tribune-Democrat or the Chiefs front office.
The Chiefs’ loyal fans took the process pretty seriously too.
A total of 728 ballots were cast either electronically on the Internet, through ballots published in The Tribune-Democrat or available during home games. Voting lasted throughout February, approximately a month.
Once the final ballot had been tabulated, the fans had selected a mix of old-school Chiefs as well as recent and even present-day players on their team of three forwards, two defenseman, one tough guy and one goaltender. They also chose a coach who had a big role in bringing the franchise back to respectability in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
“I’m honored,” said Chiefs 20th anniversary team coach Scott Allen, currently an assistant coach of the AHL’s Quad City Flames. “I’m caught by surprise. I’m certainly in good company.”
Allen edged Steve Carlson by a mere nine votes (218 to 209) to claim the top honor. A two-time ECHL champion as a player, Allen helped revive a Chiefs team that had struggled to some of the worst records in team history prior to his taking the head job.
Players refused to report to Johnstown. Their agents didn’t return calls by Chiefs management. Then, gradually, Allen, General Manager Toby O’Brien and President James Edwards Sr. helped change that image and Allen’s Chiefs ended a four-year playoff drought in 2000, upsetting highly regarded Roanoke in the first round.
Perhaps his team’s best playoff success came in 2002, when Johnstown overcame a 2-0 deficit to win three straight and take a series against the rival Peoria Rivermen. The 4-0 win in Game 5 at Carver Arena stunned Rivermen fans and the ECHL.
“I still look back on my time in Johnstown and it brings back fond memories and good times,” Allen said. “I’m disappointed that we never were able to bring a championship to Johnstown, but I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish and bringing back the respectability to a proud organization.”
Frederic Deschenes was voted the 20th anniversary goalie in another close race. Deschenes, who leads the Chiefs with 69 regular-season wins and had two playoff series wins, had 158 votes, 12 more than Stan “Smokey” Reddick, who shares the Chiefs’ single-season record of 25 wins with Deschenes.
Coles had 106 career goals and was a catalyst from 1991 to 1995. He returned again briefly in 2000. A fan favorite, Coles was one of the league’s most gifted players during the early 1990’s.
“It’s a big honor,” said Coles, who now lives in New Jersey. “I say it all the time, Johnstown has always been good to me. It’s nice that they’re still thinking of me.”
Tarabrin has played 480 games for the Chiefs, more than any other player. He had 99 goals. Rowe is among the top players on the current team and is a leader on and off the ice.
Another fan favorite, Rick Boyd, claimed the top spot in the tough guy voting. Boyd provided a physical presence and fiery leadership during his time with Johnstown in the early days of the ECHL. He came out of retirement three times to help the franchise.
The defensive pair of Jeff Sullivan (279 votes) and Brent Bilodeau (249) is only appropriate. The duo played together from 1999 through 2005. They helped the Chiefs get back into the playoffs and led through example. Sullivan received the most votes at any position.
“It’s good to know that people appreciated the way you played,” said Sullivan, who resides and works in Nova Scotia. “I just tried to play hard when I was there. Billy and I played together six years. It was good. It was fun. It’s an honor.”
Chiefs Vice President of Business Operations Kevin McGeehan commended the fans for participating in the process. The Chiefs plan to honor the members of the team at a home game later this season.
Allen and Bilodeau each are coaching. Deschenes is still playing hockey in Quebec.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” McGeehan said. “The voting early on seemed to favor the players who were in recent memory. They seemed to be the favorites. But the way the final voting ended up, all of those guys are deserving. There are a few guys, the Mark Greens, Don Parsons and some of those guys were close seconds. There were some surprises too.”