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New Book Chronicles Johnstown Hockey History

by Joe Sager / Pittsburgh Penguins

Professional hockey in Johnstown has had a rich tradition.

And, now you can read all about it in a new book put together by a group of Johnstown hockey enthusiasts, including Pittsburgh Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze.

The book, called “Slap Shots and Snapshots: 50 Seasons of Pro Hockey in Johnstown” is being published through the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper. Click  HERE to order.

However, it’s more than just a book. It’s a vast collection of statistics, history, team pictures and photos of memorabilia – the ultimate source on Johnstown professional hockey.

“I am ecstatic. I can’t believe it’s actually finished. It seemed like we just started on it yesterday, but yesterday was about five years ago,” Heinze said. “One thing you have to remember is that Johnstown hockey history is so strong that a lot of players have come and gone through Johnstown. I think that will be the neat thing or the attraction of the book or why it will be more than just a localized book is because there have been so many people come through Johnstown and they are all over the pace and Johnstown has been so good to these players and the hockey is so rich there that, when people hear about this book, they will definitely want to get a copy of it.”

Heinze, a Johnstown native and former equipment manager with the Johnstown Chiefs, collaborated on the massive project with five others, who share his passion for Johnstown hockey –  Mike Piskuric, Lou DeFazio, Mike Starchok, Dave Zeigler and Mike Mastovich, the Tribune-Democrat’s award-winning hockey writer.

Together, they compiled a copious amount of photographs of the players, teams and memorabilia as well as year-by-year team and individual statistics for all 50 seasons of Johnstown pro teams. You’ll also find pictures, stats and stories about the famous movie “Slapshot,” which was based around Johnstown’s team. 

“When we set out to do this – what is Johnstown most famous for? Everyone will say the movie Slapshot. But, when I think about Johnstown, I think about the Jets and the Chiefs – that’s what we’re trying to get is that hard-core hockey fan who remembers the importance of the old Eastern Hockey League and those types of teams,” Heinze said, “Slapshot plays an important role in Johnstown history, but that’s now what Johnstown is. So, I am hoping we’ll gather some younger fans who maybe aren’t familiar with some of the great players who played in the 1950s and ’60s because there is such a rich tradition of players. And, you have to remember there were only six teams in the NHL back then and the players that played in the Eastern Hockey League were NHL-caliber players. There were a lot of good players.”

Ed Johnston with the Johnstown Jets in 1959-60.

Many of those players have ties to the Penguins, including the Pittsburgh’s senior advisor/hockey operations Eddie Johnston. He played for the Johnstown Jets at the beginning of his pro career in the 1959-60 season and went on to a very successful NHL goaltending career.

“When I was there in the late 1950s, we were fortunate enough to have a pretty good hockey club and we won a championship up there. The city was terrific. The people were great. At that particular time, the mills were going 24 hours a day,” he said. “I have a lot of great friends up there. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people. My time up there was a stepping stone for me. Two years later, I went up to the NHL from there. You had to start some place. And if you want to start some place and win a championship, Johnstown was the place to go. We had some real characters on that hockey club and my days up there were great.”

Johnstown professional hockey remains strong as the Chiefs are part of the ECHL.

“That franchise has survived some tough times. They have a pretty good base of hockey fans up there. They love the hockey up there,” Johnston said. “I really think now, with the way our team is going right now, has revived hockey a little bit up in that area also. The people like to watch our team play. But, it’s been a terrific franchise for a long time.”

Other Penguins ties to Johnstown include Dany Sabourin, who played two seasons with the Chiefs, and FSN Pittsburgh play-by-play announcer Paul Steigerwald, who began his professional broadcasting career in 1979 with the Johnstown Red Wings. In addition, head athletic trainer Chris Stewart and assistant athletic trainer Scott Adams worked for the Chiefs.

The book is available through the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Order by Sept. 27 to receive an early bird price discount.



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