Many NHL greats have played at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, including Mario Lemieux.
After being selected first overall by the Pens in the 1984 NHL Draft, he was in the lineup a few months later as Pittsburgh beat Detroit 5-0 in an exhibition game on Oct. 7 – scoring a goal in the win. And capturing that moment from the stands, as a fan, was Johnstown native Dana Heinze.
“They would have games at the War Memorial and as kids, we went,” Heinze said. “I’ve always been into art and photography so everywhere I’d go, I’d always have my camera with me. And I was just lucky enough to get those pictures of Mario.
“We were sitting down at the far end. I remember the section; it was halfway up. I was just taking pictures at random because that was Mario’s rookie year and there was all this talk of this Mario Lemieux, but I loved the goalies. I was trying to take pictures of goalies, but that picture – the one picture he’s scoring a goal – is pretty neat. It just happened. It’s not really clean, it’s kind of blurry. But it’s funny because there’s really not a lot of images from that game, even from the newspaper back then or people from Pittsburgh covering it, so it’s strange."
Heinze has kept all of the photos and mementos from that game and many more in albums.
“We would go to Penguins games at the old Civic Arena and I had my little camera and I’m taking pictures,” said Heinze, who documents his work during the season with the Pens on his Twitter account, @RealDanaHeinze. “Then you’re so excited and you get them developed and they come back and they look like they’re ants. I’m just like, ‘oh man’ (laughs). I’d keep the ticket stub, I’d write down what the game was, who played. Just cataloged all that stuff. I’ve done that luckily with my career as well.”
Now, years later, Heinze is working for Lemieux as the head equipment manager of the Penguins – and it’s surreal for him to think that he got the chance to see him at the very beginning of his Hall-of-Fame career in his hometown rink.
“Johnstown’s a great place. It has a great tradition of hockey,” Heinze said. “And the people that have played in that War Memorial, you go all the way back to the ‘50s and they’ve had exhibition games when the Jets used to play the Montreal Canadiens. (Maurice) ‘Rocket’ Richard played and wiped out the Jets.
“Gordie Howe played at the War Memorial as well. There’s been a rich tradition of great players to play there. Stevie Yzerman’s first game was there. Mario played there. I didn’t even realize it at the time. And look at the careers they go on to have. Magical.”
Check out a few of Dana Heinze's photos of Mario Lemieux below...