By Mike Mastovich
For The Tribune-Democrat
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Without a doubt, securing a new lease with the Cambria County War Memorial Arena was the top priority for the Johnstown Chiefs this offseason.
But not far behind was an urgency to re-sign popular and successful head coach Ian Herbers.
That objective officially was reached on Monday, as the Chiefs and Herbers signed a one-year contract extension with an option for an additional four years should a long-term lease agreement be reached with the arena and should Roustan United exercise its option to purchase the ECHL team.
“It’s good to be back with the Chiefs for another season,” Herbers said Monday, when reached at his Saginaw, Mich., home. “The action by the county commissioners was a good step in the right direction. Now there’s an opportunity for the Chiefs to be successful both on and off the ice. We have some of the most loyal and supportive fans in the league. I’m excited about coming back for another year.”
Herbers’ teams have a combined 73-60-11 record during two regular seasons. The 73 wins tie former Chiefs coach Toby O’Brien for most wins through two seasons in Johnstown.
Herbers’ first team advanced to the 2008 Kelly Cup playoffs, winning a play-in series against Dayton before falling to eventual champion Cincinnati. This year was a heartbreaker, as the Chiefs missed making the North Division playoffs by one point after faltering during the final week of the season.
Johnstown missed the playoffs despite having more wins and points than seven teams that actually advanced to the postseason.
“I thought we had an improvement from our first year to our second year. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to build on that,” Herbers said. “We want to be the top team or one of the top teams for developing players for the AHL. We like the good, young, aggressive players. We want players who want to be in Johnstown. We want to win hockey games as well and play the brand of exciting hockey that the Johnstown community expects. We want to challenge for the Kelly Cup this season.”
Former Chiefs primary owner Jim Weber hired Herbers in June 2007, only a few weeks before Weber pulled out of the ownership group creating uncertainty regarding the team’s future.
Instead of bolting, Herbers stayed on despite a summer filled with doubts and rumors surrounding the Chiefs’ long-term situation.
Still, his first team went 36-30-6, including a 25-12-5 mark from January through April 2008. His 36 wins were the most in team history for a rookie coach.
Last season, Herbers led the Chiefs to 20 wins faster than any other team in the franchise’s 21-year history. He was selected as co-coach of the American Conference team in the ECHL All-Star Game in Reading.
“I think Ian has proven himself to be community-minded and he certainly has the confidence of our fans,” Chiefs General Manager Bill Bredin said. “I think he’s proven that he can be a coaching leader at this level. But I think he’s done a remarkable job in the player-personnel area.
“I would say he’s achieved more with less than any coach in the league.”
Herbers was instrumental in securing NHL affiliations with Colorado the past two seasons and Columbus last year. Two players – defensemen Wes O’Neill and Raymond Macias – who played for the Chiefs in 2007-08 and early in the 2008-09 season eventually made it to the Colorado Avalanche roster in the NHL.
“It’s year to year with the agreements and something we’ll start working on shortly,” Herbers said of possible affiliations. “Colorado has been great to work with the last two years. Lake Erie (in the AHL), it’s been a pleasure working with the last two years. As far as Columbus, I thought it was great to work with them last year, a first-class organization as well.”
Herbers said his exit interviews with Chiefs players went well, with many indicating a desire to return to Johnstown if Herbers was back and a more stable lease situation had been attained. The coach hopes to begin signing some of those prospects soon.
“The guys are smart. They noticed there needed to be changes,” Herbers said. “That’s in place. Now I’ll look forward to pushing to sign guys we wanted back.”
The Chiefs already have rolled back ticket prices. The signing of Herbers, Bredin hopes, is another reason for fans to support the team this fall and winter.
“Along with our new affordable ticket prices and planned promotional schedule, the signing of Herbers is something our great fans should really get excited about,” Bredin said.