By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The living room in Tom Dunkleberger’s Riverside home was packed on Friday afternoon.
Dunkleberger, 73, welcomed 20 unexpected guests as the Johnstown Chiefs made a short road trip to visit one of Johnstown’s most devoted hockey fans.
For nearly five decades, Dunkleberger has been a season ticket holder. He has watched Jets, Wings, Red Wings and Chiefs skate at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The retired office manager of Penstan Supply in Hornerstown never missed a game.
“If there was a hockey game, we were there,” Dunkleberger said, sitting on his couch with Chiefs at his side and circling the room. “If I can be there, I’ll be there, win lose or draw. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a slump or not. You’re not a fan if you don’t come when the team is slumping.”
Unfortunately, Dunkleberger has only attended three games this season despite purchasing his season ticket.
Last year, he missed his first few games since the 1950s because of health-related issues.
A lung ailment has kept Dunkleberger at home – and occasionally in the hospital – for most of this season.
So on Friday, the Chiefs went to him.
The players arrived at Dunkleberger’s home wearing their game jerseys. One by one the Chiefs filed into the house with each one removing his shoes as a courtesy.
The players chipped in for an official black-and-gold jersey bearing Dunkleberger’s name and the number 46 on back.
They presented him the Chiefs uniform. The “46” represented the number of years Dunkleberger purchased season tickets.
“This means a great deal to him,” said Dave Dunkleberger, Tom’s son and police chief in Stonycreek Township. “He’s had one sport all of his life that he enjoyed. That was hockey.
He is a diehard hockey fan. He was going to the games when he was sick with the flu or what have you. He never missed. To see the players come to his house and visit him means the world to him.”
The Chiefs also gave Dunkleberger an autographed stick and a few team pucks.
“When we heard about it – 46 years of dedication to the team – we wanted to honor him,” said third-year Chiefs forward Jean Desrochers. “It’s too bad that this year he’s really sick and can’t come to the games. If he can’t come see the players, we’ll take the players to see him.”
The Dunklebergers initially contacted Desrochers, one of their favorite players, hoping to set up a meeting.
“I was invited to dinner. I thought about it and said, ‘We can do better than that.’ I thought we could bring four or five guys,” Desrochers said. “I told the guys the story and asked, ‘Who wants to go?’
Everybody raised their hands.
“The guys were impressed by his dedication.
“You talk about fan loyalty. The team was unsure of its future a couple weeks ago. Here’s a guy who’s been loyal to the team for 46 years.
“I was just thinking, the Johnstown Chiefs is a way of life for people for the whole winter. It makes us realize how dedicated some fans are.”
The players are hoping that Tom Dunkleberger is well enough to drop the ceremonial first puck at one of the remaining home games.
“It’s hard to miss,” Tom Dunkleberger said. “We listen to them when they’re on the radio.
“I only was at three games this year but I’m still a season-ticket holder.”