February 3, 2008 - Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Today's game featured an exciting Federal League matchup...oh wait, that was just in the movie. In actuality I made the trip to Johnstown to see my Elmira Jackals take on the Johnstown Chiefs. This little arena houses the lone remaining original ECHL franchise. A lot of you are probably way more familiar with this arena than you realize as this was the primary filming location for the movie Slap Shot. Although it has undergone some renovations since the 1977 movie there are still plenty of familiar sights from the movie, including the pressbox which hangs from the ceiling, the perch on the end of the rink where the organ player sat, and even the door to the GM's office high up in one corner. You can visuaize the radio announcer sitting in the pressbox calling the game, or Reg Dunlop discussing the impending sale of the team with the scoundrel of a GM. Catching a game here is truly a fun experience, even if you never saw the movie.
The arena sits within sight of the famous Incline Plane, and the town is likely most famous for the 1889 flood which wiped out the city after a dam broke. The building, as the name would imply, was built just post World War 2, in 1950. The front entrance features floor to ceiling windows, and the box office is to the left as you walk in. A good seat up high near the blue line set me back $14.50. Once past the ticket takers you are on the concourse, which runs all the way around the building at ice level, and is behind the seating area. This is one of the smaller active minor league barns, seating only a little over 3800, and the views from most every seat are good, although the lower seats in the corner are set back from the ice a bit. Walking around the concourse reminds you that you are in an older building, and they pull out barricades which block the aisles when the teams exit the ice as the locker room doors are also on the concourse as well, forcing the the teams to walk across the concourse to get there. There are the usual food and souvenir concessions available, but to me the prices seemed more reasonable than most places. The souvenir stand to the left of the main entrance also was pretty well stocked. Once inside the seating bowl you can continue to spot the quirks of this place. Make no mistake about it, this is not one of the modern palace style arenas so many teams have now. That is a good thing however as the place has a ton of character. The overall look, size and feel of the place reminds me a lot of the Kingston Memorial Centre. You notice how short the benches are, and the backup goalies actually sit on folding chairs in the aisle that the fans use to get to their seat. The views are good, and every heckle from the fans can be heard by just about everyone in the building. Speaking of heckling the 2 games I have attended here gave proof to the fact that Chiefs fans are not afraid to voice their opinion, not only to opposing players and refs, but to their team as well. Another odd feature is that the players actually have to step down a couple feet through a door in the boards to get onto the ice, and have to make the rather large step up and the end of the period to get back to the locker room. (Watch Slap Shot again and you will see what I mean). In speaking with a local season ticket holder it seem that the team is on a stretch of hard times attendance wise, and there is a question if the team will remain in Johnstown. Hopefully this place sees hockey for a long time to come as it is a classic.
Some attempts to update the place have been done over the years, including the removal of the old wooden seats, which were replaced with the common plastic kind, all of which are now a bright blue. The area behind the one net is now the "Rolling Rock Party Pit", and serves as sort of a luxury seating/bar area. There are also a couple of makeshift luxury boxes which are at the top of the arena just to the end of where the pressbox is. They sort of look like extra little rooms that were haphazardly added and dont really fit in with the styling of the rest of the building. That is fine however as the last thing I care about is how nice the luxury boxes are, although in this day and age having them is a huge revenue generator for teams. The PA is rather muffled, and the song selection during stoppages seems a little outdated, but this does not detract at all from the game experience. Johnstown does have a great mascot- Tom E. Hawk, fully decked out in indian attire. They do a ton of between period fan contests, and promotions. You are also likely to be able to stand right next to the zamboni as the zamboni is often parked right on the concourse, if it is not outside the building entirely as there is an exit door which leads outside the building. Unfortunately this Super Bowl Sunday matinee game was very sparsely attended, with an attendance listed of just over 1500, although the place looked emptier than that. I was fortunate enough to attend a game in 2006 vs the rival Wheeling Nailers when the place was about 80-90% full, and the barn was definitely louder then. The game itself was rather exciting with the Chiefs making a late comeback to send the game to a shootout, which the Jackals were able to win and head out of town with a victory. If you have a chance to see a game here DO IT! I would say this place is in the top 5 must see buildings in all of minor pro hockey due to the history of the barn itself, as well as the close quarters and overall atmosphere. To sum it up you would have to say this is truly the home of "Old Time Hockey."
A box score of the game is available Here
Other information about the Johnstown Chiefs is available at: Chiefs home
Other information about the Cambria County War Memorial is available at: Arena home
More photos of the Cambria County War Memorial are available Here