By Mike Mastovich
Johnstown Chiefs alumni are on a Stanley Cup roll.
For the second consecutive NHL season, a local native hoisted the coveted Stanley Cup after his team won the seventh game of a championship series on home ice.
Assistant athletic trainer Chris Stewart claimed a share of one of sports’ most coveted prizes as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 on Monday night to win the Stanley Cup.
Stewart is a Johnstown High graduate who spent 81⁄2 seasons as the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs’ certified athletic trainer.
“It’s surreal,” Stewart said Tuesday afternoon. “(Former Chiefs forward and Hurricanes reserve) David Gove and I got our picture taken with the Cup last night. We thought about where it all began, Johnstown, and how we found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
That pot of gold appears destined to head north.
“I’m sure it will make it back to Johnstown for the second hockey season in a row,” said Stewart, referring to the NHL’s long tradition that allows each member of the championship team to take possession of the Stanley Cup for one day.
In July 2004, former Chiefs equipment manager Dana Heinze brought the Cup to Cambria County War Memorial Arena after his Tampa Bay Lightning won the title. Heinze is an assistant equipment manager for Tampa.
A crowd estimated at 2,000 waited in line for hours at the arena to catch a glimpse of the Cup or to pose for photographs.
Actually, Stewart is the third former Chiefs staffer to be on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Former Chiefs play-by-play radio broadcaster Dave Mishkin called the Lightning’s championship run.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Stewart said. “This is my first year in the league and I won the Cup. Skip Cunningham, our assistant equipment manager, has been in the game for 35 years. He goes back to the old WHA. This is his first Cup.”
Stewart has had excellent timing. He accepted an opening with the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters in December of 2004 after beginning the year with the Chiefs. Lowell was affiliated with Carolina.
After the NHL lockout ended in 2005, Stewart joined the Hurricanes.
“It was nerve-wracking when Edmonton got that goal in the third period (to make it 2-1),” Stewart said. “Your heart starts going. The clock just seemed to tick down slowly from there.”
When time ran out, Stewart could be seen on the NBC telecast embracing coaches on a jubilant Hurricanes bench.
Former Chiefs all-star Gove also took part in the celebration as a member of the Hurricanes “Black Aces,” the term given to the five or six players that practiced with the team throughout the playoffs but didn’t see any game action. Gove made his NHL debut with Carolina earlier in the season.