By Mike Mastovich
The Tribune Democrat
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – A defector sat quietly on the Wheeling Nailers Fan Club bus as it rolled up I-70 to Johnstown on Saturday afternoon.
When the fan bus pulled away from Cambria County War Memorial Arena after the Johnstown Chiefs’ 6-2 victory over the Nailers later that night, one previously occupied seat was empty.
Curtis Patrick’s arrival in Johnstown might have been a little unorthodox, hitching a ride with the opposing team’s fan club, but the Penn State University product and his college teammate, Bill Downey, did a commendable job helping the Chiefs patch together a lineup.
“We were in Iowa last Sunday and we lost in the national championship game,” Patrick said after Sunday’s 6-2 win over the visiting Trenton Titans. “I was planning on coming here (Johnstown) a month ago. But I played in the national tournament. Then the Wheeling coach (Pat Bingham) called me and said he needed some guys. I wanted to play right away so I went there.
“But Wheeling had guys sent down from Wilkes-Barre and they didn’t need me. I didn’t get to play. I needed a ride to Johnstown. I didn’t think I should ride the team bus, so I rode on the Wheeling Fan Club bus.”
Patrick and Downey helped the Chiefs fill gaps created by injuries to fifth-year defenseman Jeff Sullivan and forward Chad Cavanagh, as well as the ongoing call up of 21-goal scorer Brent Kelly.
Downey scored the game-winning goal in Friday’s 4-3 victory over Reading at the Sovereign Center. He played regular shifts all weekend, collecting a goal and 16 penalty minutes. Patrick had an even rating and six penalty minutes in two games.
“They did exactly what their job was,” Chiefs coach Toby O’Brien said. “On Friday night Billy Downey had a huge goal. It turned out to be the game-winner. Curtis played good, solid, hard defense.”
Patrick, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound native of suburban Wilkes-Barre, is the son of Pittsburgh Penguins scout Glenn Patrick and the nephew of Pens General Manager Craig Patrick. Both Curtis Patrick and Downey, a Pittsburgh resident, were four-time All-Americans at Penn State, an ACHA Division I club hockey program.
The Icers won three national championships during their first three seasons and placed second in the nation this year. Patrick and Downey each were on Team USA in the World University Games, with Patrick an assistant captain.
“I felt nervous on Saturday,” Patrick said. “I felt I did good (on Sunday). It’s a lot different with the speed and size of the guys. But it’s easier to make plays because everyone is where they’re supposed to be more so than in college.”
Whether they’ll be in the Chiefs’ lineup Wednesday at Atlantic City is uncertain.
“They’re going back to school, but it’s going to be a floating thing,” O’Brien said. “I’m going to keep them both on the roster and we’re going to take things day by day.”
Patrick, an advertising major, and Downey returned to classes Monday.