JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — In a city that is notorious for minor league and amateur hockey, the city of Johnstown, experienced a different kind of hockey player on Saturday night. The credentials that this player possessed were just a little more notorious than what the community normally experiences. Those credentials include: four Stanley Cup Championships, 1,539 career points, and enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Paul Coffey, who was a member of the Penguins 1991 Stanley Cup Championship team, was the focal point of the pre-game ceremonies for the Johnstown Tomahawks. The Tomahawks, who are entering their sixth season as a member of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), played their home opener on Saturday night against division-rival Philadelphia Rebels.
Fans from the Flood City met with Coffey, received autographs from the hall of famer, and even witnessed the former Penguin drop the ceremonial pre-game puck. The famous First Summit Arena at Cambria County War Memorial was filled with die-hard hockey fans, and when Coffey arrived out onto the ice, a thunderous ovation was received from the crowd.
“It’s always nice to not be forgotten,” Coffey said. “Pittsburgh was very dear to me. I loved it here, I won a championship here. The city embraced me and I embraced it.”
A PASSIONATE HOCKEY COMMUNITY
Coffey has played in some very passionate hockey communities before. Playing alongside generational talents such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the former defenseman was used to communities that lived and breathed the sport. Johnstown is not as large as cities such as Edmonton or Pittsburgh, but Coffey added that he was very impressed by the passion that the small city displayed.
“I’ve never been to Johnstown before,” Coffey added. “This seems like a great hockey city and it showed by all the fans that came out to support this club.”
Fans waited in a line that stretched almost the entire way around the arena just to meet the former Penguins star. In a town that is very passionate about their hometown Tomahawks, many fans skipped the first two periods just to meet with the hockey legend. Coffey met with every single fan that waited in line and signed autographs for over three hours.
The city of Johnstown was home to the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL. With the Chiefs now gone and the Tomahawks in town, the passion for hockey never died. Over 3,000 people attended the home opener, and Coffey thinks that this city may soon be ready for a professional hockey team.
“It’s a great league,” Coffey said. “This is a great league for this town now, but I think a semi-pro or pro team needs to make its way here. It’s a great hockey town.”
PITTSBURGH: A FIRST CLASS ORGANIZATION
When Coffey was having contract disputes with the Edmonton Oilers, he thought his time playing alongside one of the greatest players to ever play the game was going to end. Coffey stated that he had several teams interested in having him play for their team at the time, but when he learned that the Pittsburgh Penguins were interested in his services, he could not resist the opportunity to play for Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh was one of the classiest organizations in the league,” Coffey said. “They’re a player first, fan first organization.”
Coffey thought his time playing with a generational talent had ended. Suddenly, luck struck twice for Coffey as he was able to play with Penguins legend Mario Lemieux.
“The opportunity to play with one of the greats like Mario, to me , was a no brainer,” Coffey said. “The kind of game that I played and what I could bring to the team combined with a player such as Mario was incredible.”
The former defenseman spent only parts of five seasons with the Penguins, but because of how warm and welcoming the city was to him, Coffey suggested that Pittsburgh is like a second home to him.
“I loved my time in Pittsburgh,” Coffey said. “I loved the drive to Johnstown and being able to take in the area.”
Even though Coffey hasn’t played in Pittsburgh in almost 25 years, the former Penguin is still thankful for the time he spent in the Steel City.
“I was grateful to be able to spend time in such a great city,” Coffey said. “It was an experience that I will never forget.”