Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Hockey's Headwaters

Hockey’s Headwaters: Stephen Johns finds home in ‘Big D’

Stephen Johns skates in warm up before a game between the Boston Bruins and the Dallas Stars on January 15, 2018, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. -- Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

Stephen Johns might be from the small town of Wampum, Pa., but he’s found a home in this city they call “Big D.”

Over the weekend, the 26-year-old defenseman signed a three-year contract extension with the Dallas Stars that is worth an average annual value of $2.35 million per season and will keep him in Dallas through the 2020-21 season. He had been a restricted free agent.

Johns, who played locally for the Pittsburgh Hornets, was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft, but after his graduation from Notre Dame and parts of two seasons in the minors, the Blackhawks traded Johns to the Stars in the summer of 2015.

The next season, Johns made his NHL debut with the Stars and hasn’t looked back. In 2017-18, he solidified himself on the third pairing in Dallas and set career highs in goals (eight), assists (seven) and points (15).


Brady Ferguson skates in the 2017 Three Rivers Classic. — JENN HOFFMAN

Robert Morris alum Brady Ferguson will stick with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for the 2017-18 season.

Ferguson, the Colonials’ all-time scoring leader, signed an AHL contract for the 2018-19 season with the Toronto Marlies, the defending Calder Cup champs.

He had also spent five games with the Marlies at the end of the 2017-18 season after finishing his career at Robert Morris. He recorded four assists and was a plus-2. Ferguson didn’t play in the postseason as the Marlies took home Toronto’s first professional hockey championship in over 50 years.

Ferguson will take part in prospect development camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs this week.


Chase Golightly skates with Robert Morris in 2015. — BRIAN MITCHELL

Four Robert Morris alums had their ECHL rights traded this summer, as Spencer Dorowicz, Chase Golightly, Dan Leavens and Rob Mann all will find themselves new homes in the Double-A league this fall.

Dorowicz saw his rights traded after just eight games as a professional. The 2018 graduate spent a brief time with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits after his collegiate career ended in the spring, but he was shipped to the Cincinnati Cyclones, which will retain his rights for the 2018-19 season. He’ll leave behind former teammates Timmy Moore and Robert Powers, who made the Greenville season-ending roster.

Golightly, a 2016 alum, was shipped to the Brampton Beast from the Reading Royals. The defenseman played 55 games for the Royals last season and had one goal and 11 assists. He’ll join former teammates Scott Jacklin and Tyson Wilson in Brampton.

Mann, the 2016-17 Robert Morris captain, will come back to the East Coast after spending his first full season as a pro with the Utah Grizzlies. After physical defenseman put up eight points as a rookie pro last season, he was traded to the Orlando Solar Bears for the 2018-19 campaign.

It seems that everyone wants a piece of Leavens, who is on his fourth pro team just over a year after graduating. Leavens originally signed with the Wheeling Nailers out of college, but was traded to the Allen American and then to the Rapid City Rush during last season. He spent 47 games with the Rush and scored 12 goals and 30 assists, becoming a key member of the Rapid City offensive attack. But he was again traded this offseason, and the Wichita Thunder will now own his rights. He’ll also leave behind a former RMU teammate in defenseman John Rey, who remains on the Rapid City season-ending roster.

Fellow former Colonial Zac Lynch is on the season-ending roster for the Manchester Monarchs, as are four local players: winger Henrik Samuelsson (Idaho Steelheads), defenseman Miles Liberati (Allen Americans), center Patrick Gaul (South Carolina) and goaltender Jake Hildebrand (Tulsa Oilers).

ECHL season-ending rosters are not totally binding. Teams can attempt to negotiate contracts with players on their season-ending roster and can also extend qualifying offers to up to eight unsigned players to retain their ECHL rights. Players that do not wish to sign a team’s qualifying offer can choose to play in a different league, but not elsewhere in the ECHL.


Former Pittsburgh Hornets and Youngstown Phantoms winger Ty Loney will head overseas for the 2018-19 season, as he’s signed a one-year contract with Austrian Graz 99ers of the Erste Banke Eishockey Liga.

Loney spent each of the last three seasons splitting time between the AHL and ECHL. In 2017-18, he played eight games with the Syracuse Crunch and 12 games with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL while scoring 34 points in 32 games with the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL.

Loney will join Nilan Nagy in the EBEL, as the Canonsburg native will suit up for the UTE club based in Ujpesti, Hungary, for the third straight season. Last season, Nagy had four goals and four assists in 32 games, and also qualified for the Hungarian national team. Nagy played for the Pittsburgh Predators 18U club locally and also suited up for the Youngstown Phantoms.


Pittsburgh native Bill Thomas has singed a one-year contract with the Korean club Anyang Halla in Asia League Ice Hockey for the 2018-19 season.

Thomas, a Fox Chapel alum, split the 2017-18 season between the Finnish and German leagues. The 35-year-old right winger had two goals and one assists with Ilves and one goal and six assists with Kölner Haie.

Anyang, one of three Korean clubs in the ALIA, is something of a dynasty. They finished first in the regular season in 2015, were regular season and playoff champions in 2016 and 2017 and won the playoff championship for a third consecutive time and fourth time overall in 2018.

The ALIA also has teams in China, Japan and Russia’s Far East.

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