By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The Johnstown Chiefs will be at the center of the ECHL universe for at least one night during a milestone 20th anniversary season for both the team and the 25-member league.
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna announced Monday that the ECHL will officially open its 20th season Oct. 18 with a game between the Chiefs and the Wheeling Nailers in Johnstown.
The Chiefs are the lone member of the original five ECHL teams still playing in its original city.
Wheeling’s franchise also was among the original members, but the team was located in Winston-Salem, N.C., during the 1988-89 season. Johnstown and Winston-Salem played in the Riley Cup Final in 1989, with the Chiefs finishing as runner-up.
“Johnstown is very much the Green Bay of minor-league hockey,” McKenna said during a news conference at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, at which two new Chiefs logos and an ECHL logo commemorating the 20th anniversary were unveiled.
“It’s a long-standing market, a small market by some standards,” McKenna said. “But in terms of pride and support of the fans, knowledge of the game and tradition of the sport, it is right up there in the minor-league markets in all of North America.”
The Chiefs-Nailers game at Cambria County War Memorial Arena will be broadcast on B2 Network. It will be the Chiefs’ 1,303rd ECHL regular-season game.
“We want to recognize the rich tradition of hockey in Johnstown,” McKenna said. “Long before the ECHL, there was hockey here in Johnstown. We’re proud of that, and we’re proud that Johnstown is in our league.”
The Chiefs’ 20th anniversary logos were designed by Johnstown season-ticket holder Aaron Martinec, who works in The Tribune-Democrat camera department.
“I’m an artist by trade. I’ve had logos on other jerseys, but it’s always been a dream to have one on a pro jersey,” Martinec said. “Even though I’m not on the ice, I feel like I’m part of the team today.
“This is our team,” he said, looking toward Chiefs captain Randy Rowe. “I love you guys, and I’m proud to be a season-ticket holder.”