By Mark Simon
Special to NHL.com
October 31, 2003
It would be easy to look at the stat sheet, see the 4-1-0 start the Johnstown Chiefs have gotten off to heading into the weekend, and give the bulk of the credit to new goaltender Arturs Irbe. In fairness though, the Chiefs’ success is the result of much more then having a former NHL goalie on the roster.
Johnstown might be the most balanced team in the ECHL. The Chiefs’ three forward lines scored 19 goals in their first five games. Six came from their top line, six came from the second line, and seven came from the third, usually known as a checking line. Their 22 total tallies rank fifth in the league.
“We have the opportunity to grasp a hold of something special for Johnstown hockey,” said Chiefs head coach Toby O’Brien, who is cautiously optimistic that this could be a great year for the team and city both on and off the ice.
“That’s what you want when you put your heart and soul into something.”
With eight rookies on the roster, the team’s energy level has been high. Forward Jason Notterman, who was named the WCHA’s top defensive forward last season while at North Dakota, has put together a nice offensive spurt, with four goals and seven points already. Calgary Flames prospect Brent Kelly, who spent all of last season in the American Hockey League, has made a push to return to that level, with five tallies in five games.
The Chiefs also have a terrific local story in Johnstown native Josh Piro, who starred at Bishop McCort High, impressed in training camp, made the team, and scored three points in three games. He is someone who will be fighting for a roster spot and playing time all season, but has found a good fit.
“I’ve always wanted to have a local kid on the team, but I wouldn’t have brought him in if I didn’t think he could make it,” O’Brien said. “I thought he had a legitimate shot to make the team, but it was a long shot. He refused to try to go to the UHL or CHL, because he was solely focused on making the Chiefs, and put on 14 pounds of muscle in the summer.”