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  • Slap Shot alive and well in Johnstown Print
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Thursday, 01 November 2012 13:06

    When the news broke that the NAHL's Alaksa Avalanche were moving to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Slap Shot nostalgia immediately began flooding the area. But, for a small price, you can experience the Charlestown Chiefs' true home, which looks exactly as it did at the time of the movie's release.

    “Old-time hockey.”

    ”We’re putting on the foil. You want some?”

    “Are you guys brothers?”

    Almost any hockey fan could read those three quotes and instantaneously know that they’re from the movie Slap Shot.

    In fact, with little instruction, many fans could hear those three lines and immediately begin a diatribe of their own in quoting the movie and talking about the humor that the Charlestown Chiefs introduced to the silver screen in 1977, which perhaps has not been duplicated by any sports movie since.

    However, what many fans might not know is that Slap Shot’s War Memorial is an actual place that still exists. And not only would many fans be surprised to know that the War Memorial still exists, but also that it’s still a fully functioning hockey facility that looks nearly exactly the same in 2012 as it did at the time of Slap Shot’s release in 1977.

    The main difference between real life and Hollywood is that the real War Memorial is located 70 miles east of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and not in the fictional “Charlestown.”

    Although “Charlestown” doesn’t actually exist, every aspect of the town in the movie was based on the real-life Johnstown, which still includes the hilly streets, town square and statue of a dog that could be as easily recognized by a hockey fan as any quotes about old-time hockey, Eddie Shore or the unfortunate Denny Pratt tragedy.

    The Chiefs don’t play in the War Memorial anymore, though. The current tenants of the War Memorial are the North American Hockey League’s Johnstown Tomahawks, who were christened into the North American Hockey League for the 2012-13 season when legendary Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux dropped the ceremonial opening faceoff for the team’s home opener.

    For fans already somewhat familiar with the NAHL, the Tomahawks had been known as the Alaska Avalanche the last six years before moving to Johnstown. For fans notWar Memorial Interior as familiar with the Tomahawks, Alaska Avalanche or the NAHL, the NAHL is a 28-team junior league that’s on a similar level as the USHL, but a few notches below Canada’s three main major junior-hockey leagues.

    While it’s hard to say that either the NAHL or the Tomahawks could 100% fill the void that the lockout has created in a staunchly NHL fan’s heart, the Tomahawks do offer the type of game experience that makes attending a game at the War Memorial a leading contender for the title of being the best place in North America to watch a hockey game during the lockout.

    The obvious thing that sets attending a Tomahawks game at the War Memorial apart from any other game experience in hockey is the fact that it’s—in terms of scenery—almost like stepping onto the set of Slap Shot, albeit 35 years later. Furthermore, the 4,000-seat arena’s small, yet intimate setup is arranged so that it’s nearly impossible to visit the War Memorial and miss any location which had a scene filmed around it, including the arena’s single concourse, Joe McGrath’s office (since converted to luxury suites) and the 12-row seating bowl where everybody from Johnny Upton’s wife to little old ladies with binoculars once sat.

    Perhaps the only major addition to the War Memorial that isn’t seen in the movie is its Slap Shot museum, which, located on the arena’s lone concourse, has photos, memorabilia and former possessions of cast members—including those from the infamous Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken.

    Entrance to the Slap Shot museum is included with game tickets, which generally cost anywhere between $8 and $12.

    That’s right, even in 2012, as little as $8 grants you access to the hockey fan’s fantasyland that is Slap Shot’s War Memorial, and, of course, a Tomahawks game.

    The style that the Tomahawks play is something that fans can appreciate, too. Compared to the NHL or the AHL, the NAHL is more fire-wagon hockey with lots of up and down rushes and high-speed body checks. In short, the NAHL has all of the elements that the NHL has been trying to change rules to bring back into the sport for years, at a level that’s only a slight visual drop off from top-level NCAA or Canadian major junior hockey.

    As of the start of November, the Tomahawks will have played 17 of their 60 regular-season games, with the team’s contest with the Jamestown Ironmen on December 14 arguably being the best night for a true Slap Shot fan to attend, since that’s the night that the actual Hanson Brothers will return to the War Memorial to meet and greet fans.

    That deserves to be repeated. For as little as $8, you can help dry your lockout tears to go to a hockey game, visit the actual War Memorial, see a museum dedicated to Slap Shot and meet the actual Hanson Brothers.

    For information on how to attend any Tomahawks game, you can call (814) 536-5156 or visit

    The Tomahawks can also be followed on Twitter at @johnstowntomahawks.
    Photos by Dan Marrazza

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    Last Updated on Thursday, 01 November 2012 13:27