By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – When the Johnstown community found out Cass Bauer-Bilodeau was expecting twins, she was swarmed by blankets and baby clothes.
You wonder if she got a few booties from an agent hoping to sign the next generation of Bilodeau’s.
Cass Bauer-Bilodeau and Brent Bilodeau could be called the power couple of the ECHL. The 6-4 Cass played for Sacramento, Charlotte and Washington in the WNBA and is in the Montana High School Hall of Fame for her exploits in the tiny town of Hysham and at Montana State.
Brent holds the Chiefs’ record for games played (Friday’s game was his 375th with the Chiefs), and was a first-round selection of the Montreal Canadiens in 1991, taken just after Markus Naslund and before Glen Murray.
At 6-4 and 230 pounds, Brent has established himself as the rock of the Chiefs defense along with Jeff Sullivan, who also is in his sixth season with the Chiefs.
The Bilodeau twins, Tyler and Jacob, who were born last spring, may have inherited great athletic genes from their parents, but the reason they have been embraced by Johnstown is not just because of their parents’ sporting talents.
It is because Cass and Brent Bilodeau have embraced Johnstown, selling it as a worthwhile destination for aspiring hockey players and not a place to escape from due to its long-standing economic troubles.
“Cass Bauer-Bilodeau has been all over the world,” said Chiefs coach Toby O’Brien. “They like it in Johnstown. I can’t say enough about what they (Cass Bauer-Bilodeau and Pam Sullivan, wife of Jeff Sullivan) have done as a group. They make the whole experience good for the players.”
Cass and Brent crossed paths in Chicago when Brent was playing in San Antonio in the International Hockey League and Cass was playing for Philadelphia in the American Basketball League.
It was a perfect situation when the WNBA formed and the couple could spend the basketball season where Cass was playing and the hockey season in Johnstown. The couple was married in August 2000 in Montana.
Brent had played in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Kansas City before being lured to Johnstown.
“The only reference I had was `Slap Shot,’ ” said Brent of the infamous hockey movie filmed in Johnstown. “When I was talking to coaches before I signed I never asked about the town. You are here to play hockey. The coach then (Scott Allen) and general manager (and now current coach) Toby O’Brien had the same ideas and values as I did.”
Brent soon found the attraction of Johnstown.
“The people and the organization have been first class,” he said. “It has been a big factor in me staying in Johnstown. They have been excellent to my wife. We have twin boys now and everyone has been super helping out. It is the people that make us come back here.”
The closest Cass had come to Johnstown was a few hours away playing in Philadelphia in the ABL. She watched “Slap Shot” when she first started dating Brent.
It would be easy to understand why someone from Big Sky country could become depressed in Johnstown, where the hills and river seem to draw in the clouds and moisture.
“If it was not such a good group of people it would make things more difficult,” she said.
Cass quickly became part of the community, working as a registered nurse at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Lee Hospital and volunteering in the Chiefs’ front office.
“I am a people person,” said Cass. “I love to mingle with people and get to know them.”
Growing up as the best athlete in a town with a population of 500 in the plains of Montana, Cass is used to being the center of attention.
“I think being an athlete you are a role model if you like it or not,” she said. “You have the choice to be positive or negative. I enjoy being a nurse. You have to like being around people. I do enjoy it (being seen as a role model in Johnstown) and embrace it. That is why we do like it here so much.”
While Brent has been a large part in helping recruit players as Steve Hildenbrand, Shawn Mather and Brent Kelly, Cass may play just as important a role.
“The hockey has been wonderful,” said Cass. “It is a great place for hockey players and for their wives or girlfriends. We do a lot of things together when the team is on the road. We have kind of established a little tradition here. It is a good selling point. People who come here feel very comfortable. They love the players here and go the extra mile.”