By Mike Mastovich
For The Tribune-Democrat
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Kyle Wharton is accustomed to playing at Cambria County War Memorial Arena after spending much of last season in the ECHL.
The next time he skates on the War Memorial ice, Wharton will be wearing the home sweater.
A 6-foot-3 defenseman, Wharton was assigned to the Johnstown Chiefs by the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch on Tuesday and will be in the lineup on Thursday when the Chiefs play the Trenton Devils at Sovereign Bank Arena.
“I was sent here. Whatever the circumstance, it doesn’t matter. You’re here. You do the best you can,” said Wharton, a former second-round draft pick of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. “You want to help the team win the best you can.”
Last season, Wharton played 32 games for the Elmira Jackals in the North Division. Back then, Columbus and Syracuse were affiliated with the Jackals. This season, the Chiefs became the Jackets’ ECHL affiliate.
“We played here a few times last year,” Wharton said of the War Memorial. “Johnstown was a hard team to play against. It’s hard to play in this rink. It seems to be smaller than other rinks. They play a hard style of game. They check hard and do the little things right. It’s a good team to be on and a hard team to play against.”
The former Ontario Hockey League standout had four goals, 11 points and 46 penalty minutes with the Jackals last season. In 13 games with Syracuse, he had two goals.
“I’ve known Wharton for a few years,” Chiefs coach Ian Herbers said. “I coached against him in the Ontario Hockey League. He’s a smart and mobile defenseman. He can run the power play. He has size and mobility. He’s quick. He can join the play offensively.
“We’re excited to have Kyle here. He will get a lot of ice time and game time,” Herbers said. “That’s why he’s down here, to get the rust off in game situations.”
“If you come here knowing five or six guys right off the bat, that makes it easier,” Wharton said. “I’ve known Trevor for a long time. We’re from the same hometown from the Ottawa area. We’ve known each other for five or six years.”
Wharton played four OHL seasons with Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie and Guelph. He had four goals, 14 points and 50 penalty minutes with the Ottawa 67’s in 2003-04, the season preceding his selection as the 59th draft pick overall in ’04.
“There was a lot of lead-up to the draft,” Wharton said. “When it’s over, it’s good to get it over with and move on. The lead-up, you don’t know where you’re going to go. Strange things happen. It was great to get picked where I was picked. You just have to make it work.”