Grabbing a taco and a beer at Scott’s By Dam or filling a bag full of sweets at The Candy Store have long been pregame traditions for many local hockey fans.
However, the Johnstown Chiefs left in 2010 after calling the city home for more than two decades. Since then, only a few ECHL minor league contests, youth tournaments and high school games have been held at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
But now hockey is back full time.
The Johnstown Tomahawks, a Tier II Junior A team from the North American Hockey League, will play their inaugural home game tonight.
The contest against the Michigan Warriors will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Beforehand, fans will have a chance to relive some of their favorite rituals, like stopping in Scott’s or the candy shop, two well-known downtown businesses located on Market Street near the arena.
Scott McLachlan, owner of Scott’s By Dam, expects to have a full bar for hours before the puck drops.
“(Hockey fans) know to get here early; boom,” said McLachlan. “I don’t take reservations. I don’t care if it’s the president. I’m not going to take the reservation.”
Bill Felix, The Candy Store proprietor, has anticipated the return of hockey ever since Johnstown landed an NAHL team in the spring.
“When they announced it, I was so happy that people had to tell me to shut the hell up about it,” said Felix, whose business has been located on Market Street for a quarter-century. “They wanted to go home and see their wives and kids and I kept talking.”
Downtown restaurants, bars and hotels are expected to receive an economic boost from the Tomahawks’ home games.
“I think it’s just a great opportunity for the city of Johnstown,” said city Councilman Pete Vizza. “Certainly I would expect a positive impact for the businesses. ... Even moreso than the economic impact, I think it will be a morale booster for the city of Johnstown and its sports supporters. Johnstown is a hockey town. I don’t see any downside to this.”
The team has already made a noticeable local financial impact with its extensive advertising and marketing campaign that is expected to spend $100,000 by the end of the season. The Tomahawks employ six full-time employees. Other part-timers will be used on game days.
“That alone is a huge contribution from the ownership group to the local community,” said Tomahawks General Manager Rick Boyd.