By Jay Greenberg
The Hockey News
November 17, 2004
The owners are in one solar system, the players in another, and our sun has gone out. Things look so hopeless that for inspiration I went to one of the most hopeless places on earth.
It takes me six hours by car to go 45 years back to Johnstown, where I fell in love with the game at nine, a mental age I recommend adopting by those both bitterly damaging and swearing off the game. The people who run the NHL have picked up their toys and gone home. Fortunately, I could go back to the place where the Hanson brothers brought their bleepin’ toys.
It had been 14 years since I had last walked into the Cambria County War Memorial, which they have fixed up considerably without messing with a single one of my memories. Thankfully, that is about as possible as killing hockey in Johnstown, which, despite all odds, has proven to be a blessedly prodigious task.
“These people are going to be broke, Reggie, and they aren’t going to be going to hockey games,” forecasted Dunlop’s ex, Francine.
How wrong she has turned out to be.
Like in Slap Shot, the steel mill closed and soon after the filming in 1977, downtown Johnstown went underwater for a third time. A metropolitan population once over 125,000 is now 79,000, with one of the highest unemployment rates and lowest average incomes in Pennsylvania.
Neil Smith, the former Ranger GM, and Rick Adams, the once-ECHL president, have “honed” the Chiefs since 2002. They gave local management two years to drastically reduce annual losses of $250,000 or else these people would never hear Lady of Spain again. Last year, when the ECHL’s oldest team, in its smallest city, won 45 games and lost a ridiculous one-game playoff, attendance rose by 307 a game up to 2,551, helping reduce losses to $40,000.