Johnstown’s “Great Flood” happened more than 100 years ago.
Yet, a steady stream continues to flow from the city – in the form of hockey personnel.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were inundated this year with three staff members who have strong Johnstown roots – head equipment manager Dana Heinze, head athletic trainer Chris Stewart and assistant athletic trainer Scott Adams.
Heinze and Stewart – both Johnstown natives – worked together from 1996-1999 as staff members for the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL in similar roles. Meanwhile Adams spent last season as the Chiefs’ head athletic trainer.
“I started with Dana and he kind of showed me the ropes when I first started in the ECHL,” Stewart said. “It’s a thrill to get back here and be here with him again. To be able to help Scott out by using the Johnstown connection is great. He’s earned it. He has the experience, so it was a good thing to bring him up with us.”
Heinze was the head equipment manager for the Johnstown Chiefs for two stints – 1998-92 and 1995-99. He spent the 1992-93 season on the New Jersey Devils’ staff and worked for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL in 1999-00. He joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2000 and worked as the team’s assistant equipment manager until he returned to Western Pennsylvania this summer with the Penguins.
“Coming back to Pittsburgh is absolutely a dream come true. I grew up a Penguins fan,” he said. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d work for the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
Heinze earned a Stanley Cup ring with the Lightning in 2004 and brought the famous trophy to Johnstown that summer.
“I had great things happen to me in my career,” he said. “Winning the Stanley Cup was awesome, but it does not compare with getting the opportunity to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.
“I am excited to be able to come out and make my own mark on the facility and the place that I work and spend most of my time,” he continued. “I am a behind-the-scenes guy. The locker room is my second home.”
Heinze certainly treats it like one. He oversaw significant upgrades to the players’ lockerroom and lounge area when he arrived – such signs with motivational sayings and decals to give the areas a new look.
In addition, Heinze and assistant equipment manager Paul DeFazio and their assistants work tirelessly to keep the locker room and players’ equipment in immaculate condition.
“We can only prepare these guys to go onto the ice. When they step foot on the ice, then it’s in their hands. But, everything behind the scenes, I don’t need them worrying about anything else,” Heinze said. “I don’t need them to worry about issues with their equipment or sticks or skates. That’s all taken care of. All they have to worry about is playing hockey. That’s how we treat them.”
Meanwhile, Stewart comes to the Penguins after a year as an associate athletic trainer for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. He worked for the Chiefs from 1996-04 and spent 2004-05 in Lowell of the AHL before the joined the Hurricanes.
“Coming back is great,” he said. “It’s a step up as far as my professional career goes, but it’s a bonus when you come to a team you rooted for your whole life.”
And, he became the second Johnstown native in two NHL seasons to earn a Stanley Cup ring when the Hurricanes won it all in 2006 (the Stanley Cup was not awarded in 2005 due to an NHL work stoppage). He followed Heinze’s lead and took the Stanley Cup back to Johnstown this summer.
“I will never be able to explain it. It’s something that, in 20 years down the road, I will still be in awe of what happened,” he said. “We can’t let the people in Johnstown expect too much out of us, bringing the Cup there two seasons in a row. Hopefully, it happens again.”
Adams spent last season in Stewart’s old role as head athletic trainer in Johnstown. Before that, he spent a season with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. Even though he is a native of Windsor, Ontario, Adams knows he is part of a strong Johnstown family.
“It’s nice knowing the personalities and who you’re going to be working with even before you get there. The Johnstown community always has strong family and friendship ties, so we kind of figured that bond would sort of carry over here,” he said. “It’s definitely a dream come true. Once you realize you’re not going to play hockey for life, you kind of try to go another way. All way through school, it was my goal to get here. I just have to keep working hard to stay here and, hopefully, I will stay a long time.”
And, he hopes to earn his own Stanley Cup ring with the Penguins.
“Yeah I am jealous. Hopefully, I can bring one to Pittsburgh,” he said. “Getting here is a dream come true and winning a Stanley Cup would be another dream come true. Winning it with Stewey and Dana would be a great tie to everything in the long run.”
Stewart has noticed the team improve in the short time he has been here.
“It’s amazing what talent this team has and what progress this team has made and what potential they have to be great,” he said. “If I can stick around, I’d enjoy watching them grow older and getting better and better every year. You never know, this could be a real good team.”
Likewise Heinze sees improvement, too. He’s noticed some similarities between this season’s young Penguins squad and the team that grew together and eventually won the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay.
“It’s fun watching these guys now. My first year in Tampa, we won five games on the road. We were awful,” he said. “The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come along here. It’s fun to see these guys and see how excited they are.
“If things go the way they are supposed to go, you can’t go wrong with the young talent we have in Pittsburgh. I don’t see why we couldn’t win it all here,” he continued. “You couldn’t write a better story about Chris and me being from Johnstown and we both get our names on the Stanley Cup and then we get a chance to work together again and maybe one day get our names on the Cup together along with Scott. So, who knows?”
Whenever it happens, Johnstown will have to prepare for a flood of celebration.