Our Town Editor
4:38 PM EDT, May 14, 2012
Johnstown Sports Partners, a private investment group spearheaded by Esmark Chairman and CEO James P. Bouchard, has acquired the Alaska Avalanche of the North American Hockey League and will relocate the team to Johnstown in time for the junior hockey league season.
"You will not believe the speed and intensity of this hockey you're about to see," Bouchard said at a press conference announcing the acquisition last week at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
"You're going to see 20 kids fighting for Division I scholarships."
Terms of the all-cash acquisition and relocation were not disclosed.
The NAHL is the oldest and largest junior hockey league in the United States with 27 teams in 14 states.
Primarily for players ages 18 to 20, NAHL alumni include National Hockey League stars Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.
"Until you actually see these boys play, you have no idea of the quality of hockey you're getting," Avalanche owner Mark Lee said, adding the team returns 18 players from a year ago.
A new team name and logo design will be revealed in upcoming weeks.
Two former Johnstown Chiefs will manage the team: Rick Boyd will be general manager and director of hockey operations, while Jean Desrochers will serve as director of business operations.
Pointing to the annual AAABA baseball tournament at Point Stadium and the Sunnehanna Open, minority owner Jim Vasilko, owner of Johnstown Construction Co., said the region is primed for amateur sports.
"It never amazes me the support of this community and how we rally around things," Vasilko said.
Cambria County Commissioner Doug Lengenfelder, a native of North Dakota, echoed the excitement,
"I'm ready to put on a tuque and the only thing we're missing is a little snow today," Lengenfelder said with a laugh.
Bouchard described the NAHL as a stepping stone for Division I hockey. He said a synergy is being developed between high school hockey in Western Pennsylvania and college teams such as Notre Dame, Penn State and Robert Morris.
"Kids don't come out of high school anymore and go to college and start playing hockey," he said. "They have to go to a junior hockey program for one or two or three years."
He said players will be required to perform community service for local non-profit organizations such as schools and hospitals.
Tickets will be priced between $8 and $12. Bouchard said the team will provide computer hookups to bars and restaurants in the region to televise games.
"Johnstown is the perfect place," he said. "We want to being a national championship to Johnstown. I don't know how long it's going to take – it may take some time – but that's our goal."