Some of the team’s players initially thought they were the target of a hockey prank when plans for the Johnstown Tomahawks Charity Classic were unveiled.
After all, who would believe that a group of Pittsburgh Penguins players would skate alongside the NAHL Tier II Junior A Tomahawks at Cambria County War Memorial Arena?
“We thought for a little while that it might be a joke,” said Chris Truehl, a 19-year-old Tomahawks goaltender from Stoughton, Wis. “(Tomahawks front office staff) told us they had a surprise for us and we’d have a great opportunity. When they told us we’d play with the Penguins, it was an awesome opportunity. It was a really cool feeling for all of us.”
The National Hockey League’s labor strife inadvertently will provide Johnstown hockey fans an opportunity to watch some of the game’s top players at the War Memorial Arena.
Locked-out members of the Pittsburgh Penguins will join the Tomahawks at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The NHL players – including popular Penguins Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz, who each recently were part of a Tomahawks promotion at the War Memorial – will play side by side with Tomahawks players in a game to raise money for Pittsburgh Kids Foundation-Haiti and the Johnstown Tomahawks Charity Foundation.
Tickets, which cost $25 for all seats, will go on sale at 10 a.m. today at the War Memorial. Tickets also may be purchased through TicketMaster at 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.
In addition to Cooke and Kunitz, the Penguins players scheduled to participate in the event are goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury; forwards Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams and Joe Vitale; and defensemen Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy.
Former Penguin forward Jordan Staal also is to play in the game.
As of Thursday evening, there was no word on whether Penguins star center Sidney Crosby would participate either as a player or a special guest.
Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard said the game is set to go on even if the NHL lockout issues would be resolved in the next few days. The NHL and NHLPA negotiations have resumed this week.
“Obviously there is a disclaimer. We’re so close. Anything could happen,” Bouchard said. “But as of now if the lockout ends and the training camp begins on (Jan.) 12 or 13, the game is still on unless the Penguins would order the players not to play. Anything can happen, but as of now the game is on.”
The community oriented Tomahawks team has quickly won over Johnstown and its hockey fans through spirited play on the ice and a willingness to interact with people and organizations throughout the region.
“The younger players, boys and girls, will get a chance to see NHL players up close,” Bouchard said of the team’s fans involved in youth hockey. “This will be another benefit. It also gives our Tomahawks players an opportunity to see what it’s like to be a professional player at the game’s highest level for a night.”
Tomahawks majority owner James Bouchard and his company, Esmark, have strong ties to the Penguins, and James Bouchard is a friend of Mario Lemieux, the Hall of Famer who won two Stanley Cups with the Pens before becoming an owner of the team.
“My brother, Jim, has made several trips to Haiti and is very involved in the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, and that’s how this all came to fruition,” Richard Bouchard said. “He made several trips to donate medical supplies over the last few years. Haiti is officially the poorest country in the world. Pittsburgh Kids Foundation has made several trips.
“Dr. Brad Henderson is the president of the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, and between him and my brother, they approached me and said Johnstown would be the perfect fit to raise some money for this great cause.”