I am in no way a Pens fan but I love the movie and love the War Memorial Arena!
PITTSBURGH -- The gritty western Pennsylvania city whose rich minor league hockey history helped inspire the cult movie hit "Slap Shot" is getting another chance to support a hockey team.
A group of investors is relocating a junior league franchise from Alaska to Johnstown, where the comedy movie about a minor league hockey team that turns to violent play to gain interest in a failing factory town was filmed.
James Bouchard, the chairman and chief executive of private investment firm Esmark Inc., is heading the deal bringing the North American Hockey League's Alaska Avalanche to Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Bouchard's group, Johnstown Sports Partners LLC, was scheduled to announce the deal later Thursday at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, where the yet-to-be-renamed team will play.
"Slap Shot" was based on the Johnstown Jets and released in 1977, the year the team folded. The movie starred the late Paul Newman as player/coach of the fictional Charlestown Chiefs, and much of it was filmed in the city and the 4,000-seat War Memorial Arena.
The movie helped inspire a group to found the Johnstown Chiefs, another minor league team, in 1988. The Chiefs never turned a profit in the flood-ravaged, former steel town before moving to Greenville, S.C., in the ECHL two years ago.
NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld referred to the city's hockey pedigree in a statement announcing the move to Johnstown "with its historic past and fan base eager for the return of hockey to the War Memorial Arena."
Bouchard, too, is boosting the city's hockey heritage, saying he's "excited about bringing a new brand of junior hockey to the region that recognizes the illustrious past of the Johnstown Chiefs."
Although the team has yet to announce a new logo or team name, Bouchard has hired two former Chiefs players to key positions. Former tough guy Rick Boyd is the general manager and director of hockey operations, while Jean Desrochers is director of business operations.
Hockey in Johnstown pre-dates America's involvement in World War II. The minor league Johnstown Bluebirds played in the defunct Eastern Hockey League in 1941 and 1942 until the military draft intervened. The Jets were founded in 1950 and played in three minor leagues until they folded in 1977, after the city's third historic flood dealt a near crushing blow to the local economy and badly damaged the ice-making equipment at the War Memorial, situated next to the Conemaugh River.
The NAHL team is steps below minor league. Players aren't paid, although the team covers some of their expenses. The new owners are hoping lower overhead will help keep ticket prices low for a city where census figures show a median household income of about $21,000. The league's players are typically 16 to 20 years old and will likely board with local families and attend high schools or community colleges, all the time hoping for a shot with a major college, minor league, or higher-level junior team.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins are among the National Hockey League players who got their start in the NAHL, which has 27 teams in 14 states and the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Scott McLachlan already considers himself a fan.
McLachlan has run his self-named Scott's By Dam Bar, the city's unofficial game-day hangout, for 20 years. Home and visiting fans packed his bar before and after Chiefs games -- he estimates he lost $50,000 a year in revenue when the team moved to South Carolina -- and he's excited about rooting for and sponsoring the new team. In a tiny market like Johnstown, sponsorships sometimes take the form of in-kind contributions -- like meals.
"If I can feed the team, I'll feed the team," McLachlan said. "I've already talked to one of the gentlemen involved with the new team and told him we're willing to help the team any way that we can.
"I'm just excited there's going to be hockey in the War Memorial."