By Chip Minemyer
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – This is the story of a hockey book.
But it’s really the story of a hockey passion.
The Tribune-Democrat is putting together its latest book project – “Slap Shots and Snapshots: 50 Seasons of Pro Hockey in Johnstown.”
Maybe you’ve seen the ads in this newspaper, or perhaps you caught the great report last week on WJAC-TV.
You will be able to find out about the book on a variety of hockey Web sites – from the Hanson Brothers to the Pittsburgh Penguins to the ECHL.
We think it’s a fabulous project. When you get the book, you’ll read stories about every era of pro hockey in Johnstown. You’ll see tons of photographs and images of memorabilia – programs, tickets, patches, pucks. And you’ll have year-by-year team and individual player statistics for all 50 seasons of the Blue Birds, Jets, Wings, Red Wings and Chiefs.
As did our recent effort “Disaster’s Wake: A Retrospective of the 1977 Johnstown Flood,” this book will showcase the combined talents of the newspaper staff and the editors and designers of Johnstown Magazine.
It will be a must-have item for hockey fans.
But the idea of a Johnstown hockey history book has been in the works for several years – since long before The Tribune-Democrat got involved.
Dana Heinze, a Johnstown native and the equipment manager for the Penguins, estimates that the seeds were germinating as early as 1995.
Heinze wrote a column for “Slap Shots and Snapshots” in which he describes how six guys got together because of a passion for hockey and history, and took a winding course to where we are today.
The six – who call themselves “Johnstown Hockey Co.” – are Heinze, Mike Piskuric, Lou DeFazio, Mike Starchok, Dave Zeigler and Mike Mastovich, this newspaper’s award-winning hockey writer.
Heinze has been collecting hockey memorabilia since his days as a goalie at Westmont Hilltop High School. He spent many years at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, handling equipment duties for the Chiefs and even playing for the team. He acquired a lot of stuff.
“I set out on this quest to try to collect every team picture in Johnstown professional hockey history,” Heinze wrote.
He led the effort to place a pictorial history display about the Chiefs in the windows of the Glosser building downtown. That led to a hockey history display at the Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown.
Heinze met Piskuric, who was gathering statistics on Johnstown hockey through the years, and they started thinking that their combined efforts might be the makings of a book.
“Neither of us realized how difficult it is, or would be, to actually publish a book,” Heinze wrote. “We had the ideas, but how do we get this project to really happen?”
They connected with Mastovich, who covered the Chiefs for The Tribune-Democrat and had written numerous hockey history pieces for the newspaper and magazines.
They were eventually joined by Johnstown natives De-Fazio and Starchok, along with Zeigler, who had previously worked for the Johnstown Jets.
Eventually, the newspaper jumped on board and the book dream started to become a reality.
When you see this book, you’ll be amazed at the volume of information it contains.
The credit for all of that goes to these six guys, who spent hours in libraries reading through old microfilm or on the telephone with the hockey greats of each era.
They have even rewritten history in some instances, finding inconsistencies in the historic record and digging deep to find the truth.
“We were like archaeologists,” Heinze wrote, “piecing together the accurate historical record, while painstakingly uncovering the factual information.”
It was an amazing effort.
As an editor, I have been blown away by their diligence, their work ethic, their commitment.
And their passion for the sport.
“What a journey it’s been,” Heinze wrote.
Yes, and in a way it’s just beginning.
To order “Slap Shots and Snapshots” click here for an order form.