by Lucy Leitner
In a glorious example of art influencing life, the Pennsylvania city that provided the basis and backdrop for Slap Shot is getting a new hockey team. Sewickley-based Esmark, Inc.’s CEO James Bouchard is leading the deal that will bring the North American Hockey League’s Alaska Avalanche to play at the legendary Cambria County War Memorial Arena. As Bouchard says, he’s “excited about bringing a new brand of junior hockey to the region that recognizes the illustrious past of the Johnstown Chiefs.”
Though Johnstown’s skill at losing hockey teams overshadows even that of Atlanta, the investors of the Johnstown Sports Partners, LLC. decided that the town where Slap Shot was filmed needs a new hockey team. The Charleston Chiefs of 1977 masterpiece that Dead Spin recently called “the only honest sports movie” were based on the Johnstown Jets that folded the year the film was released. In the city’s first homage to the movie, a group founded the East Coast Hockey League’s Johnstown Chiefs in 1988 only to lose the beloved team to South Carolina in 2010.
The as of yet unnamed team (in the tradition of honoring natural disasters to afflict their hometowns, will the Avalanche be called the Flood?) are a couple rungs down from the ECHL, as the players are basically teenage domestic exchange students who stay with host families while they attend local schools. This is a junior team that likely does not include any cast members from Twin Peaks. And because it is composed of teenagers, will not have a player/coach eligible for social security. It’s not one of the prestigious junior leagues, but is where colorful recent Stanley Cup heros Patrick Kane and Tim Thomas got their starts.
What is so fantastic about this is that Slap Shot, the cynical, nihilistic cult comedy, has yielded not one, but two replications. In a time when the world’s biggest league is trying to eliminate fighting, Johnstown is trying to recapture the spirit of a movie with pugilistic fictional hockey teams of all time. The violent antics were lead by the illustrious Hanson Brothers (Dave Hanson, Jeff Carlson, and Steve Carlson), the goons in the thick-rimmed glasses not the teenagers who sang gibberish in the mid-nineties, who still reprise their roles at local charity sporting events. And since Dave Hanson currently serves as executive director of Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Center, it seems highly likely that the NAHL team will get a hero’s welcome when they arrive in Johnstown.
This is how you do a sequel.