Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Burgh Hockey

Pens’ Heinze, Stewart keep hometown roots in Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Chris Stewart and Dana Heinze, both Johnstown natives , have won three Stanley Cups together with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The duo has been a part of the Penguins staff since the 2005-06 season, when Stewart accepted a position as head athletic trainer and Heinze followed as the equipment manager.

But that was never the plan for either of them.

“If you would have told me that I’d be standing where I am today, I never would’ve believed you,” Heinze said on July 7, as the two were inducted into the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame. “I always made sports a priority, but I never thought I would make it this far.”

Heinze went to Westmont Hilltop High School just outside of Johnstown and planned on having a career as a graphic designer. He played high school hockey for Westmont as a goaltender, but he knew his playing career would stop there. He attended Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York and was ready to move on to a life not centered around hockey. But after hearing about an opening for an equipment assistant with the now defunct Johnstown Chiefs of the East Coast Hockey League, Heinze took his first steps in a long hockey career.

“I had to call up Steve Carlson, who was the coach of the Chiefs at the time,” Heinze said. “He asked if I was qualified enough for the position, and I said, ‘Well, not really.’ Now, that’s really not a good thing to say to someone if you want to get a job. But Steve hired me anyway and paid me $105 a week.”

Heinze served as the head trainer for the Chiefs from 1988-92. He earned a big break and cracked into the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, working on the equipment staff with former Penguins coach Herb Brooks. But his time with the Devils was short, and Heinze soon found himself back in Johnstown working with the Chiefs again. It was in 1996 that another Johnstown native joined him on the Chiefs staff.

“I didn’t really know Dana before I joined the Chiefs,” Stewart said. “We went to different schools, and he was a couple years older than me. Little did we know that we would both be working together in the NHL years later.”

Stewart went to Greater Johnstown High School, where he played football along with former Philadelphia Eagles athletic trainer Chris Peduzzi. The two were part of a Trojans team that went 11-1 during Stewart’s senior year, and led a defense famously known as the “Killer Bee’s.” After earning his masters degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in sports and physical education, Stewart wound up working with the Chiefs alongside Henize.

“My first duty when I was with the Chiefs was as equipment manager/medical trainer,” Heinze said. “As the league progressed and got bigger, you can’t have people like me who really aren’t certified working with injuries. So the Chiefs struck a deal with the Western PA Sports Med, and Chris was the guy that would come down and be our trainer.”

Stewart worked with the Chiefs as a part-time athletic trainer on behalf of the agency. But after wowing the Chiefs staff, he was brought on to the team as a full time trainer the next season. It was then that a friendship between the two began to form.

“Once I started working for the Chiefs, I got to know Dana better and we became friends,” Stewart said. “And he’s really become a good friend. We know each other’s goods and bads, so we can put up with each other. It works out well. I wasn’t with the Chiefs for too long and then he left. We didn’t hook up again until we made it to Pittsburgh.”

Heinze accepted a position in 1998 with the Detroit Vipers of the now-defunct. He remained in that role until 2000, when he joined the Tampa Bay Lightning’s equipment staff.

Stewart stayed with the Chiefs until 2004, when he joined Lowell Lock Monsters, which were theCarolina Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate. He was promoted to the NHL the next season as the Hurricanes associate athletic trainer.

Early on on their NHL careers, both Johnstown natives found instant success. In 2004, Heinze’s Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup in thanks to Ruslan Fedotenko’s spectacular Game 7 performance against the Calgary Flames. In 2006, Stewart earned his first ring after the Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers behind rookie goaltender Cam Ward.

“We both won championships pretty early in our careers,” Heinze said. “It was crazy to think that two guys from Johnstown, Pa. would lift the cup. And now we’ve both done it four times.”

After winning the cup with the Hurricanes, Stewart left Carolina and accepted the head athletic trainer position with the Pittsburgh Penguins. That offseason, another vacancy arose in the Penguins staff: head equipment manager. When Stewart saw the opening, he knew of the perfect candidate for the job.

But after receiving a call from his friend and former co-worker, Heinze did not jump right away at the thought of joining his hometown team.

“Chris called me and told me he got the job with Pittsburgh and that there was an opening for an equipment manager,” Heinze said. “I politely told him “Congrats, thank you, not interested.’ I was happy in Tampa Bay and wasn’t really looking to leave. But after thinking about it, I got permission from Tampa Bay to interview for the position. About 10 days before training camp started, I started my new job with the Penguins.”

Working for a first-class organization

Now working for the Penguins, the duo said it has been a dream come true.

“Growing up and playing for my childhood team is amazing,” Heinz’s said. “I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.”

Stewart said that while he too was a fan of the Penguins, he appreciates the team even more now after being able to work for them.

“They’re a top-notch organization,” Stewart said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team to work for from ownership down to management. It’s just unbelievable what they do for us and what they allow us to do to make a championship team.”

Heinze echoed Stewart, adding that the team’s ownership is what makes it possible for the Penguins to succeed year in and year out.

“They are such a first-class organization,” Heinze said. “We are blessed to have such an amazing ownership group with Ron Burke and Mario Lemieux, and it goes down to our general manager and assistant general managers. Our team presidents, David Morehouse and Travis Williams, those guys give our team every possible thing to be successful. How can you not be happy about that? The bar is set so high because expectations are to win. These guys want to win every year and give you all the tools to do so.”

And winning is exactly what the organization has done since the two joined the team. Heinze and Stewart added three more rings to their collection and are working on number five.

“We lost to Detroit in ‘08, but we should have won that series,” Heinze said, jokingly. “We should have five rings.”

Among other achievements, Heinze’s equipment staff was invited to participate in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. He also played a key role in having Johnstown named as the inaugural Hockeyville USA in 2015.

In March, Heinze reached the 2,000 game milestone. Stewart is close behind, and should reach the milestone this upcoming season.

“It’s funny to think that it’s been that long,” Stewart said. “It certainly doesn’t feel like it.”

Johnstown is home

Making their way into the NHL, the Johnstown natives have not gotten many opportunities to return home. Heinze permanently lives in Pittsburgh and Stewart resides in Canonsburg. While work makes it tough, the two both said they try as hard as they can to return to their hometown.

“It’s awesome to come back to Johnstown in the town I grew up with to see all of the people that I love,” Heinze said. “Because of how crazy my work schedule is, I’m not able to get back here as much as I want to. But I’m always excited to come back, and we try to come back as much as we can.”

Stewart said he also occasionally returns to visit his mother, who still calls Johnstown home. Heinze returns to visit his parents and in-laws as much as he can as well.

“I am such a fan of Johnstown and how hard this city works,” Heinz said. “This is a blue-collar area, the people are so kind and the area is crazy for hockey.”

While both are off to bigger and better things in Pittsburgh, their friends and family at home have not forgotten one of the city’s greatest success stories. At First Summit Arena at the Cambria County War Memorial, the athletic and equipment rooms are named after each man, respectively.

On July 7, the two were also enshrined into the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s always nice to come back and see that your work is appreciated,” Stewart said. “This is just a great area.”

Both Heinze and Stewart have brought the Stanley Cup back to Johnstown each time they were given their day with the cup. While both have had their dreams come true, neither will forget where their roots are.

“Johnstown will always be my first home,” Heinze said.

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