By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The Stanley Cup is coming to Johnstown.
As unbelievable as that might sound, it’s true.
The most prized possession in the National Hockey League – and one of most distinguished trophies in professional sports – will make its way to Western Pennsylvania from Tampa, Fla.
Westmont Hilltop High School graduate Dana Heinze is the assistant equipment manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Heinze, 35, who is a former ECHL Johnstown Chiefs trainer, will be part of the storied tradition in which each member of the championship organization is entitled to spend a day with the Stanley Cup.
“Once my day is picked, it will be there,” Heinze said in a midnight telephone interview in his office as his parents, Louis and Judy Heinze of Westmont, shared the special moment next to him following Game 7. “We’ll have a party. Everyone is invited.”
Heinze completed his fourth season with the Lightning as part of Tampa Bay’s first NHL championship club.
“I was having a heart attack the whole last 10 minutes of the game,” said Heinze, who was seen clearly on the ABC telecast tending to Tampa star Martin St. Louis’ bloodied face after a hit and Calgary penalty in the closing minutes. “I was watching the clock. I was looking at my feet. Finally when the clock ticked off we all just grabbed each other and celebrated.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s a dream come true. You can’t believe it.”
Heinze said the Tampa Bay locker room was packed with players, reporters and others celebrating the victory.
“There must be a thousand people in this room,” Heinze said excitedly. “I hoisted the Cup in the locker room after the game. I kissed it. It still hasn’t hit me. That’s ours.
“All that hard work. Two months in the playoffs. It’s unreal. What a great group of guys we have. They never stopped believing.”
Heinze was with the Chiefs from 1988-92 and again from 1995-99. He spent part of the 1992-93 season as an assistant equipment manager with the NHL New Jersey Devils.
His second stint with the Chiefs led Heinze to the Detroit Vipers in the former International Hockey League. The Vipers were affiliated with Tampa Bay and Johnstown.
While with the Chiefs, Heinze and his staff transformed the spacious home locker room into a user-friendly, even historic haven.
Under his guidance, the team added large locker areas, numerous shelves and stick racks and all the amenities that a hockey player needs.
Also a local hockey historian, Heinze displayed dozens of Chiefs’ team and action photographs throughout the locker room, media room and hallways leading to the ice.
His touch has been evident in Tampa Bay, where one local observer recently noted after a tour of the facility that the locker room’s paint job, particularly the long stripes that line the hallways, are very similar to those in Johnstown. The room apparently had been painted red before the black, blue and silver upgrade to match the team colors.
“It means a lot that so many people in Johnstown have followed the Lightning because of my time there,” Heinze said. “That’s something I’ll never forget. When the Cup comes to Johnstown, we’ll have a little party at the War Memorial.”
Heinze isn’t the only former Chiefs product to join in Tampa’s post-game celebration.
Radio broadcaster Dave Mishkin received his start in pro hockey with the Chiefs in 1991-92. Mishkin joined the Johnstown staff after graduating from Yale University, and he called games for three seasons here.
In 1994-95, Mishkin joined the American League Hershey Bears, who formerly were affiliated with Johnstown. Mishkin is in his second season with Tampa Bay.