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A winning blend in Johnstown

by Brian Compton
Entering his second season as coach of the Johnstown Chiefs, Ian Herbers had a better understanding of the obstacles that would be thrown his way throughout the course of a season -- promotions to the American Hockey League. Injuries. Long bus rides through the night to places like Trenton, Elmira and Dayton.

One month into the 2008-09 season, the Chiefs have been one of the better teams in the ECHL. Entering Friday night's game against the Reading Royals at Cambria County War Memorial, Johnstown finds itself in a first-place tie with the Wheeling Nailers in the North Division at 10-4-0.

"It's a long season," Herbers told "There's still a long way to go here, but it's always nice when you can come out 10-4 to start a year. Guys are playing well. We've got guys playing in different situations. I think that's part of our strength -- we can roll three lines. We've got seven, right solid 'D' back there that can slide in and out of the lineup at any time, and our goaltending's been playing well for us."

Indeed it has. The combination of Kris Mayotte and Ian Keserich has allowed just 32 goals in 13 appearances, while defenseman Jon Landry has 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) and a plus-3 rating in 14 games. Johnstown also possesses the reigning In Glas Co Player of the Week, as Ryan Garlock was given the award after racking up 3 goals and 4 assists in four games.

While the Chiefs won 36 games last season and reached the Kelly Cup Playoffs, they thus far have shown that they have the tools to make a serious run this time around. Not only is Johnstown talented, but Herbers believes the chemistry in the locker room is solid.

"It's probably the depth at our back end," Herbers said when asked to compare this Johnstown team to the 2007-08 version. "We've got a stronger group of defensemen. It's a good core back there. We've got great chemistry in the dressing room. It's a good group of guys. They all want to compete and battle for each other every night. It makes it fun coming to the rink.

"Obviously, it helps having a year under your belt. The experience has helped me realize, especially in the North, how much movement goes on. It's helped on that part, because we've had quite a few callups and some injuries. We've been able to still find a way to win games."

The Chiefs certainly have a good mix of rookies and veterans, from 22-year-old Peter Pohl (who leads the team with 16 points) to veteran Randy Rowe, who is averaging just over a point per game. That balance within the roster has certainly been beneficial for Johnstown thus far.

Veteran forward Jason Spence had good feelings about this team as far back as training camp.

"Looking at what was there, I knew that we had a lot of speed and that we were young," said Spence, who has spent seven of his 10 professional seasons in Johnstown. "We also had some big players. We had a really good mix. I knew coming into the season that we were going to be better off. (But) you don't what's going to really happen until you start playing. It's just a good mix."

Of course, it helps when the veterans are also quality people, which is exactly what Rowe, Spence and defenseman Mike Knight are. Herbers certainly is happy to have such character guys around to show the rookies how to carry themselves.

"We're not overloaded one way or the other," Herbers said. "They get along. They like coming to the rink. It makes it a good situation. The key is having the leadership back, too. They know what's expected of guys, not only on the ice but here in the community in Johnstown."

"We've just got to realize what we've done to get us here. We haven't really done anything yet. We've just got to realize that when we do the little things right, we're a tough team to play against."
-- Jason Spence

With 58 games still remaining on their schedule, the Chiefs obviously still have a long way to go before any parades can be planned along Main St. Nonetheless, they're aware of what they have to do to remain on the right path.

"We've just got to realize what we've done to get us here," Spence said. "We haven't really done anything yet. We've just got to realize that when we do the little things right, we're a tough team to play against."

Around the ECHL -- The Las Vegas Wranglers acquired defenseman Chris St. Croix to the Elmira Jackals in exchange for forward Chris Korchinski, and sent defenseman Gerard Miller to the Reading Royals for future considerations. ... The Florida Everblades dealt Kyle Peto to the Mississippi Sea Wolves for future considerations. ... The South Carolina Stingrays announced that forward Paul McIlveen has been traded to Elmira, completing the Nov. 16 trade that brought Jeff Corey from Reading to South Carolina. ... Jonathan Boutin of the Victoria Salmon Kings was named the Rbk Hockey Goaltender of the Week after going 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average, a .986 save percentage and a shutout. Overall, Boutin is 5-2-1 with a 2.40 GAA.

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