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Identity & Community

Johnstown Competes To Become 'Hockeyville USA'

Jon Dawson

Detroit is known as "Hockeytown USA," but could Johnstown claim the title of “Hockeyville USA?”

That depends on if it receives enough votes, according to Chad Mearns, director of marketing and communications for the Johnstown Tomahawks.

The junior ice hockey team’s Cambria County War Memorial Arena is one of ten rinks competing in the U.S.’s first “Kraft Hockeyville USA” challenge. 

“They’re looking for the most passionate hockey community in the United States,” Mearns said. “And we very much think that that fits with what we have here to offer in Johnstown and really western Pennsylvania as a whole.”

The winning rink will receive $150,000 for arena upgrades from Kraft as well as the opportunity to host an NHL pre-season game shown on NBCSN, which Mearns hopes will feature the Pittsburgh Penguins.

According to Kraft, more than 1,300 rinks were nominated for the prize – almost 70 percent of all the rinks in the country. Mearns said they worked hard to publicize the contest throughout the region, which resulted in the War Memorial Arena leading the nation in nominations, but Mearns said there’s more work to be done and a lot of votes to be cast.

“The schools, the businesses in the area, social clubs, things like that, places where people hang out, they’re setting up computers, they’re handing out flyers,” Mearns said. “Anybody who walks through the door, they’re saying ‘hey, let’s sit down a couple of minutes and get these votes in.’”

This support isn’t new – Mearns says hockey is something that unites Johnstown, even bringing a bit of fame to the “distressed” community.

“We’ve got a long history of just solid fan support, we’ve got a lot of youth programs, high school programs, just families who grew up playing the game together,” Mearns said. “And of course the one unique claim to fame that we really have here in town is that this is the birthplace of Slap Shot.”

He calls the 1977 comedy about a hockey team’s decision to resort to violence on the ice in order not to go under “one of the most famous and beloved hockey movies” and says it was inspired by the Johnstown Jets – which eventually did fold after the 1977 Johnstown flood.

If the arena claims victory, Mearns hopes some of the grand prize money would go towards replacing the rink’s scoreboard, though he said nothing has been decided officially.

“Finding parts to replace the things on it that are breaking down is very, very challenging because it is so old and outdated,” Mearns said. “So as a result, you’ve got people in the building who can’t always tell how much time is left or how much time is left in a penalty or even what the score is depending on your viewpoint.”

Voting opened Tuesday, and the top four communities will be announced April 18th.  Ballots can be cast online at Kraft Hockeyville USA's website, by texting “CAMBRIA” to 35350 or by calling 1-855-255-5975.