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Johnstown legend calls Hockeyville defining moment

by David Satriano

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- It was fitting Don Hall was the first person to step onto the ice at Cambria War Memorial Arena since the city was named the winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA.

Hall is a legend in Johnstown and has been for more than 60 years. He played for the Johnstown Jets of the Eastern Hockey League for 11 seasons from 1950-1962 and had 424 goals and 1,056 points. When Hall retired, he was the all-time leading scorer in organized hockey. So when Johnstown was announced as the winner, Hall was front and center.

The city was awarded a preseason game to be played Tuesday between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and received $150,000 for arena upgrades.

"I was very excited. I'm a big Penguins fan and Eddie Johnston who played in the NHL, he and I are good friends," Hall said on Sunday after he put on the skates and was in a chair being escorted around the "Kraft Hockeyville" logo at center ice, his skates the first markings in the ice. "I know a lot of the Penguins and it's very exciting for me. I was here when they made the announcement and the crowd was very excited. The building was excited. It's the most incredible thing that's ever happened in Johnstown since the flood (of 1889). And that's not counting 'Slap Shot.'

"When 'Slap Shot' came (to film) in 1976, everyone got into it. It was a big affair. This is much bigger. This is our celebration."

Hall was 20 when he first arrived on the scene, and didn't think he'd stay in Johnstown for long. Now, he's 85 and still in town.

"I came here in 1950 to play one year and get my education and stayed 65," he said after a youth hockey clinic at Cambria County War Memorial Arena. "Met my wife here. We just had our 62nd anniversary last week. Raised the family here, the town's been really good to me. I work in the investment business and have for 60 years. The city, I can see it emerging from a football town to a hockey town and there's no questions that we are Hockeyville USA."

Hall was born in Toronto and signed with the Maple Leafs. When that didn't work out he signed a C-form with the Montreal Canadiens, which meant they had his professional rights. He played for Johnstown, which had an affiliation with the Canadiens.

"There was only six NHL clubs back then. I belonged to Toronto," Hall said. "Signed with Toronto when I was 16 in 1946. As a result, they wanted to send me to L.A. to play back in 1950, but you couldn't get to L.A. So then I got an offer to come to Johnstown, which I took and I don't regret it.

"I was a good player. I always felt that in today's world with the Europeans and stuff like that, I probably would be playing in the National Hockey League. But back then, teams didn't change players very often. You didn't play for the money. There was no money in the game. Today it's much different. I quit playing the year I made more money in the investment business than I did playing hockey. Just decided this was where I was going to live the rest of my life and I'm glad I did."

Hall's No. 9 jersey was retired by the Jets. And though he didn't make it to the NHL, he played against his share of Hall of Famers. The Canadiens and Jets played an exhibition game here with more than 1,600 in attendance in November 1951. Hall got to play against Maurice Richard, who scored six goals in the Canadiens' 10-2 victory.

"In those days, it was an exhibition game, but we weren't going to try to make the team or anything, and so I was on the ice for at least three of the goals [Richard] got because I was standing right beside him," Hall said. "He had a good time."

Almost 65 years later, Hall is glad he didn't leave Johnstown after getting his education.

"If I had to change my life, I wouldn't change a thing," Hall said.


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