By Mike Mastovich
For The Tribune-Democrat
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Josh Piro’s hockey career has come full circle – again.
The Bishop McCort graduate and former Johnstown Chiefs forward has agreed to terms and will attend the Chiefs’ ECHL training camp beginning next weekend.
Piro made his professional debut by playing one late-season game with the Chiefs in 2002-03, then spent 38 games with Johnstown during the record-breaking 2003-04 season. Since then, he’s played for Florence and Dayton in the ECHL, Fort Wayne, Motor City and Elmira in the UHL, and Fayetteville and Twin City in the Southern Professional League.
“It just seems like this is the year to try to do it again,” said Piro, 29, during a telephone interview Friday. “It was a great experience my rookie year, coming here and playing here. They have two NHL affiliates with Columbus and Colorado. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. It’s going to be my sixth full year. You’ve got 21- and 22-year-old guys champing at the bit and some NHL contract guys coming down. It’s going to be tough, but I want to try to play here again.”
Chiefs coach Ian Herbers said Piro will get his chance to make an impression. The 6-foot-1 forward’s name is well-known in Johnstown, where he played on four consecutive Bishop teams McCort that won the Pennsylvania Cup, and he was a fan favorite during his brief time with the Chiefs.
“We’re excited to have Josh in camp. It’s nice to have a local product here,” Herbers said Friday. “I’ve been talking to (Chiefs veterans) Randy Rowe and Jason Spence, and they say Josh has been training very hard this summer on and off the ice with both of them. I’ve heard stories from (former Johnstown coach/GM) Toby O’Brien about what Josh has done in the past. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does on the ice, personally.”
Piro won a championship ring in 2006-07 with the Fayetteville FireAntz. He scored 10 goals and 37 points in 56 games playing under John Marks, who now is back in the ECHL, where he is the all-time coaching wins leader.
With the Chiefs, Piro had two goals and six points in 38 games in 2003-04.
In six seasons (five full seasons, plus one game), Piro played 246 professional games, including 10 playoff contests. He has 31 goals, 62 assists, 93 points and 231 penalty minutes.
“Ian Herbers called me last year when he had guys banged up and asked me to play,” Piro said. “But we were short on forwards (in Twin City) and I didn’t think it would have been the right thing to do. In hindsight, maybe I should have done it. Herbers said I probably would have played the rest of the year and in the playoffs.”
Local fans remember Piro as a prolific scorer at McCort. But his role in the pro game combines grit, a scoring touch and defensive play.
“I won’t try to change my role. I told Ian I would want to come in as a third-line center, play every game and kill penalties,” Piro said. “I have experience. With 250 pro games, I’d be a good locker-room guy. I could show younger guys what it takes and how to take care of themselves.”
Piro’s first experience as a Chief had extra significance.
“The fact that I was playing in my hometown was special,” Piro said. “Not many people can say that. I could play in front of my family and friends. I wasn’t miles away from my home. Johnstown, with the tradition they have, it’s always been a strong hockey history with ‘Slap Shot.’ I think it’s a privilege for anyone to play in Johnstown.”