Hello from Johnstown, Pa. -- also known as Kraft Hockeyville USA! Tonight the Pens and the Tampa Bay Lightning will face off against each other in the first-ever Kraft Hockeyville USA contest at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, Pa. The city of Johnstown and the historic rink are the settings of the famous 1977 comedy movie Slap Shot, which starred the late Paul Newman and featured the fictional Charlestown Chiefs.
Every hockey fan knows of the movie, which is filled with phenomenal one-liners and classic jokes (although most can’t be reprinted). Marc-Andre Fleury and ROOT Sports’ Dan Potash even recreated the opening scene of the movie between French-Canadian goalie Denis Lemieux and broadcaster Jim Carr.
And the blooper reel, published earlier today, is below:
"All hockey players, anybody that’s spent time on a bus, have watched (Slap Shot) numerous times," forward Chris Kunitz said. "Most of us can recite quite a few lines and words. Being here is a different feel than the movie."
"Everybody in this room probably grew up watching that movie," added Patric Hornqvist, who used Swedish subtitles when viewing the film. "Now we’re right here. So this is a special moment, at least for me. Very proud to be here and play this game."
Tonight’s game will be an incredible homecoming of sorts for two Pens staffers – head equipment manager Dana Heinze and head athletic trainer Chris Stewart. Both are Johnstown natives and began their careers with the Johnstown Chiefs, and NHL.com did a terrific piece on their return to the city. Heinze also told us some amazing stories about his time there, which he said was incredibly similar to the movie. There was a sign above the War Memorial that read “Welcome Dana and Stewie” and both locker rooms were named after the two prodigal sons.
We've got to start off the day with a song that has been playing on repeat here in the arena this morning and is now stuck in our heads: Maxine Nightingale's "Right Back Where We Started From," from Slap Shot's soundtrack.
The Pens started the day with an 8 o’clock bus ride from Pittsburgh to Johnstown. Near the end of the 1.5-hour trip the team put on the movie Slap Shot to get the guys in the Chiefs' mindset.
"I watched it growing up, and I’ll be honest, watching it on the bus ride out here I got a lot more of the jokes than I did when I was 8 years old or far too young to understand it," defenseman Ian Cole said with a laugh. "It was a lot more interesting on the way out here.""WET CARPET"
When the team arrived, the players came off the bus and were greeted by fans. Despite the drizzle of rain, the guys still came out and walked around the barricade to sign autographs and take pictures under the shelter of umbrellas. Evgeni Malkin really took his time and made sure to hit as many fans as possible to chants of "GENO! GENO!"
"I liked how the fans waited outside," said Malkin, who hasn't seen the movie Slap Shot but said he plans to. "A little bit of rain. It’s all friendly. Lots of kids here. Of course it’s fun. People love the Penguins here. They know my name here, it’s a surprise for me (laughs). It’s a little bit far from Pittsburgh. We drive one hour, 30 minutes. It’s a good city."
Cole jokingly nicknamed what was supposed to be the red carpet the "wet" carpet.
"It was cool. It was awesome, actually," he said. "We had people holding umbrellas for it, so it was nice. The rain didn’t help, but obviously didn’t deter the folks of Johnstown that came out in droves and incredibly enthusiastic and happy to be out here almost as much as we are. So it should be a really fun day."
As the players were getting ready, Dave Hanson, Jeff Carlson and Steve Carlson -- who played the Hanson Brothers in Slap Shot -- stopped by the Pens' locker room in full costume and entertained the boys for a while.
"It was crazy," Hornqvist laughed of seeing the trio in their Charlestown Chiefs jerseys and famous taped-up black-rimmed glasses. "They’re still in good shape and obviously got a little older, but you can still see they’re those three guys."
Once they took the ice, the Pens used the following lines at the skate:
As a result of winning the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest (which was held through public voting), in addition to hosting this NHL preseason game, Johnstown received $150,000 in arena upgrades and used the winning funds to upgrade its ice-making equipment and scoreboard. And the players noticed the changes.
"It’s new; a lot of renovations," Cole said. "But you can still see the same guts of it, for sure. The old press box is up there, kind of in the rafters hanging out by itself. I love it. It’s awesome, so far."
Afterward, Hornqvist marveled at how the day had gone so far.
"This is great," he said with a big grin. "I can’t believe so many fans showed up and watched practice. Even when we came out with the bus, they're out there yelling for us and all that. So it’s been a great event so far, but I’m pretty sure the best part is tonight."
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy echoed that sentiment.
"It's a special game. You remember marquee games for the rest of your life," Lovejoy said. "I remember the first Winter Classic game at Heinz Field. I remember playing at Dodgers Stadium, playing in playoff games. This is something special. You can see how much this means for the community. No one in the town of Johnstown is at work today because they’re all either outside or in here watching practice, trying to be a part of this. It’s so cool that the guys in this room are able to come in and see the passion of this community."
Authors: Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo