Friday, May 25, 2012

New-Time Hockey

Earlier this month, the Tier II Junior A NAHL's Alaska Avalanche were acquired by Johnstown, PA interests and relocated to the city of Slap Shot fame and the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, which was vacated by the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs in 2010. Since then, the organization has more or less done everything right, starting with a nickname of obvious origin: Tomahawks. Their logo, which looks like the love child of the Chicago Blackhawks' and Univeristy of North Dakota's insignia (former, in UND's case), is also quite sharp.

The red, white and blue color scheme, in a classy touch, is designed to honor the same veterans who are also honored by the name of the team's home arena.

The Tomahawks have hired a coach, Jason Spence, whose ten-season professional career was spent mostly with the Chiefs. In 2009, he moved behind the bench as an assistant coach, following the team when it relocated to Greenville, SC. After a brutal 2009-2010 season in Johnstown, the Greenville Road Warriors have gone 87-47-10 in their two seasons of existence. Spence, from what I've read on him, is well liked locally. At the very least Rick Boyd, a former Chiefs teammate and now his boss as GM, is a fan.
"Jason was the hardest-working player on the ice and a wonderful team ambassador off the ice. The fans loved him and he connected with this community so well that he relocated to Johnstown, married a local woman and made huge sacrifices to pursue his love of coaching and mentoring young players," Boyd said. "I know our young men will be thrilled to have Jason as their coach."
The Tomahawks will inherit the bulk of their roster from Alaska, which went 35-19-6 last season before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs.

Not Penn State news? Au contraire, mes amis. See, just yesterday, we learned that...
Hall of Fame Steelers linebacker Jack Ham has invested in the ownership group of the Johnstown Tomahawks, the new NAHL Tier II Junior A hockey team, according to a radio interview given by majority owner James Bouchard and confirmed by team President Richard Bouchard.

James Bouchard said during a radio interview that Ham and former Buffalo Bills star linebacker Shane Conlan have invested in the ownership group.
Both Ham (who was at PSU from 1968-1970) and Conlan (1982-1986) are, of course, integral parts of Penn State's Linebacker U legacy and are generally considered among the top five LBs ever at the school. Combined, the pair were on three perfect teams. Conlan was on the 1982 and 1986 national champions, although he redshirted in 1982. Today, Ham is an analyst on the radio broadcasts of Penn State football games.

Even beyond that, there's reason to be excited from a hockey perspective. It's a natural opportunity for a recruiting pipeline in Penn State's backyard. For both the coaching staff and for us garden-variety obsessed fans, it's an opportunity to see PSU recruits - either potential or actual - in person, either as Tomahawks or as their opponents. Before now, the nearest NAHL franchise to State College was in Jamestown, NY. The nearest outpost of the Tier I USHL is in Youngstown, OH. Both leagues, the top two junior leagues in the U.S., are based mostly in the central parts of the country.

Bryce Johnson, Justin Kirchhevel, P.J. Musico, Jake Friedman, Joe Lordo and George Saad are members of Penn State's 2012-2013 roster who have spent time in the NAHL. In 2011-2012, the then-five Big Ten programs rostered 15 players who had an NAHL franchise listed under "last team," headed by Ohio State's five (this, of course, doesn't include those who played in the NAHL before advancing to the USHL or elsewhere).

Hopefully someday soon, "Johnstown Tomahawks" will be spotted under that "last team" column on a Penn State roster. But even if that doesn't happen, these are certainly exciting developments for that growing hockey state - yeah, I'm daring to use that label -of Pennsylvania.


  1. Not a very, um, "politically correct" choice of name or logo. Interesting to see how that plays out. Still better than the London Rippers!

    I hope to see more high level junior hockey in PA.

  2. It's kind of funny...I mentioned the Blackhawks and North Dakota. One is almost universally considered among the best logos in sports, the other gets NCAA tournament games forfeited. They're practically the same logo - in fact UND basically did use a blatant ripoff of the Blackhawks logo until the early 90s. It's a VERY fine line apparently, and it's probably best to avoid it altogether, although I get why the Tomahawks felt like they had to go that route. I imagine the benefit of that connection is greater than the cost of the negative attention...that they probably won't get due to being a junior hockey team.

    The Chiefs, if you have to use a Native American-inspired name, probably had the right idea in using an arrowhead. Nobody has an issue with the Kansas City Chiefs, or with Florida State's spear logos (certainly there are issues there, but with other things). The hard rules seem to be that "Indians" is bad, references to skin color are bad and caricatures/stereotypes (Chief Wahoo) are bad. Everything else is grey area (that it's probably best to avoid).

  3. Damn... So long and thanks, Av's.

  4. There are no hard and fast rules.
    The NCAA's "enforcement" of all of this is unbelievably inconsistent and unfair. Florida State gets to keep the white guy on the horse with the flaming spear and the tomahawk chop and all of that but UND can't have their name and logo, which, as you say, is almost identical to the Blackhawks'. Why? Just politics. FSU is a BCS school and UND is not. Also, FSU made a deal with the local Seminole groups not to object while UND somehow pissed off somebody in the local Sioux. It's not like they put it to a vote of all native Americans or even everyone in those particular nations.

    I'm familiar with all of this, because my alma mater, William & Mary was told that the logo of WM with two feathers sticking out was "offensive" to native Americans, even though all of the local tribes in Virginia said it was ok, but that we could keep the name Tribe. The College decided that fighting the NCAA wasn't worth the money, so we got a new WM logo (boring, but better) So W&M has kept the name Tribe, but adopted a stupid griffin as a mascot. Why a griffin? It's not really clear. Somehow it won a popular vote. A lot of people want to just scrap it all and start with something totally new so the name and mascot can be consistent, but then because the NCAA was so unfair on this, there's a lot of support behind "Tribe" just to stick it in their face. Also, Tribe is ambiguous. It could be a tribe of Visigoths, as my old roomate pointed out.

    Tomahawks is worse than Chiefs, I think, because it reinforces certain stereotypes of Indians as brutal savages scalping everyone, etc. It seems a shame that they couldn't just be the Chiefs.

  5. Good thoughts...just to clear something up, as far as "rules," I just meant the unwritten ones in society that result in people picketing certain sports teams but not others. The NCAA is obviously all over the map with enforcement - I'll even toss Illinois a mention, since they had to retire their white guy mascot while FSU didn't.

    After nearly a week of thinking about it, I'm changing my position. This team should have gone "Chiefs" or in a new direction. Why not "Jets," after the team that actually inspired Slap Shot? There's already a Janesville Jets in the NAHL, but details like that don't stop the AHL or CFL (back when we had Roughriders and Rough Riders).

    I do think the NCAA has the right idea, to a point - the Seminole or Sioux people are the ones who should decide whether they're offended. But like you said, non-democratic backroom dealings and situations where maybe two tribes disagree (how I understand the North Dakota situation) sort of make everything a mess.