By Dave Molinari
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – One of the most celebrated teams in hockey history played in this town, but you wouldn’t know it from walking around the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
There are no banners celebrating that club’s feats. No photos of its stars in the concourse. No historic pucks or championship hardware tucked away in a trophy case.
Not a single reference. Anywhere.
Well, except for the one on the front of the sweaters worn by the city’s current team, the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL.
They are the namesakes, if not direct heirs to the legacy, of the Charlestown Chiefs, the fictional club made famous in “Slap Shot” — the ’70s film about minor-league hockey. The movie featured Paul Newman and some wickedly funny, though often coarse, lines that have made it an icon of sorts in hockey circles.
The film – and those Chiefs – were based (not all that loosely) on the 1974-75 Johnstown Jets, who won the North American Hockey League title. Their lineup included the Carlson brothers (Jeff, Steve and Jack), Dave “Killer” Hanson, local legend Galen Head, Penguins prospect Guido Tenisi and undersized goalie Louie Levasseur, among others.
It was a cast almost as memorable as the one in the screenplay penned by Nancy Dowd, sister of Johnstown player Ned Dowd. Devotees of the film — and they are legion — won’t forget characters such as Reggie Dunlop, the Hanson brothers, Denis Lemieux, Ogie Ogilthorpe or Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown anytime soon.
“Slap Shot” was filmed in the War Memorial and around the town and, for many fans, will remain Johnstown’s most enduring link to the game. But the Federal League, where the Charlestown Chiefs played, wasn’t real, and the old NAHL, where the Jets competed, faded away long ago.