2010 Johnstown Chiefs: Almost Impossible to Believe

Chris MillerCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2010

Word has spread throughout the hockey world of a hockey team and community that, after 22 years, is parting ways.

For owner and former general manager of the New York Rangers Neil Smith, the decision to move the team to its new home in Greenville, South Carolina, was the unfortunate result of an organization that has lacked profitability for much of its historic distinction as the only remaining original franchise of the East Coast Hockey League still located in the same city.

For diehard Chiefs fans, the decision is not surprising.  In fact, to some, the Johnstown community is lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy professional hockey over portions of four decades.

Trouble for the team began after the 1995-1995 season, where the organization would endure four years of basement-dwelling.  Consequently, attendance figures also hit the floor.  Even as the Chiefs recovered to produce a quality product in 1999, reaching the third round of the playoffs, the damage had already been done.

The team has mainly alternated between good seasons and subpar seasons following the turn of the century, but to date, the Chiefs have finished the last four seasons at .500 or better.

The fans have not responded.

Above all else, the Johnstown community is to blame for the organization's decision to leave the area.

Sure, maybe the Chiefs could have marketed their product more outside of the immediate region, spreading word of their events to regional communities such as Altoona and Indiana.  The organization failed to capitalize on a growing student body at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located 40 minutes from the arena boasting around 15,000 students who never read an advertisement in the city or college newspaper. 

Despite their shortcomings in marketing strategies, Johnstown and its surrounding suburbs hold enough of a population to fill an arena renovated several years ago to accommodate slightly less than 4,000.  The county itself possesses around 150,000 individuals, all of which is a maximum one hour drive from any location within the county.

Enough of mathematics, the point is the region has failed to capitalize on what was an integral asset to the area.  Sure, economics come into play, with families struggling to get by, but honestly, for a team that averages less than 2,000 fans per game so far this season, the city of Johnstown and its surrounding communities are solely to blame.

Truthfully, the only committed people tied to the organization are those who back the team with season tickets, fans who make several lengthy trips from outside the region, and the owner himself, Neil Smith. 

Smith bought the team in 2002 to save it from leaving a town with a proud and historic hockey tradition, allowing local wealth both time and opportunity to step forward and purchase the team.

Smith did not see owning the team as a long term ordeal, but seeing no interest from eligible buyers, it became just that.

In 2010, Smith gave up, and who with a rightful mind can blame him?

Response to the news of relocation came as a shock to some, expectant to the knowledgeable.  Ask many of the season ticket holders, particularly those who have been around since the beginning of professional hockey in Johnstown, and you would find out how surprised they are the Chiefs lasted for so long.

Come to think of it, how did they last this long?

Johnstown should be blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to say goodbye to its professional hockey team in what is now the year 2010.

It has been a long-time-comin'.


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