Johnstown named Kraft Hockyville USA winner
May 4, 2015
By Dave Sutor, Tribune-Democrat
Johnstown, Pennsylvania and the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, which is home to the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League, was named the winner of the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest over the weekend.
An estimated crowd of 3,500 people gathered on Saturday to learn the news inside the Cambria County War Memorial Arena. There was plenty of free food, prizes and music. Then, later in the afternoon, the announcement came in between periods of a Stanley Cup Playoffs game on NBC television.
A palpable sense of enthusiasm instantly turned into an explosion of joyful emotion, as adults cheered, children smacked together thundersticks and balloons fell from the ceiling. Johnstown won the contest by getting more votes than Decatur, Illinois, did in the finals.
It is unlikely Johnstown would have been able to promote itself as the nation’s most passionate hockey community if it did not have a hometown team, such as the Tomahawks, who have competed in the NAHL since 2012-13, team leaders said Saturday.
"We wouldn’t be Hockeyville without the last three years of getting the Tomahawks up and running with the community support," James Vasilko, Tomahawks co-owner, said. "This reminds me of the Johnstown flood. You can’t get everybody to agree to build a hotel beside an elementary school or why do we have 18 municipalities around Johnstown. But, when it comes to something that the community does, there’s no town like this.”
It was a goal the community worked together to achieve since the competition got underway in January. "Four months ago, they announced the contest, and we all looked at each other and said they were talking to us,” said Jean Desrochers, the Johnstown Tomahawks director of business operations. "This contest was made for Johnstown with the history that we have. Today, we’re honoring everybody that paved the way."?
No final vote total was provided, but Johnstown not only received local support, but also strong backing from throughout the United States, including the NAHL fans, thanks to being known as the town where the classic hockey movie "Slap Shot" was filmed.
"With the rich tradition of hockey, I really didn’t have a doubt that Johnstown and Cambria County - and really all the past players from across the country - would come together and we’d pull this off," Johnstown Tomahawks President Rick Bouchard said. "I was very confident from the start."?
Johnstown received more essay submissions during the nomination process than any other city. It then passed through the first two rounds of voting to eventually represent the East in the finals. A groundswell of support grew throughout the process, as individuals, businesses and community organizations got involved.
Along with the title, Johnstown will receive $150,000 for improvements to the War Memorial. A committee will decide how to use the money. The arena’s scoreboard, lighting and sound system all need upgraded. Kraft would need to approve any expenditures.
"The plan so far has really just been, let’s delay those conversations until after the contest," said Chad Mearns, the Tomahawks director of marketing and communications. "We wanted to make sure that we put our energy and our time into doing our best to win the contest, and get as much money for the upgrades as possible," he said.
As the first-ever Hockeyville champion, Johnstown will get money to upgrade the War Memorial and the chance to host a National Hockey League preseason game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, Sept. 29.