Dave Gove had just finished his fourth and final season at Western Michigan. He had made an appearance in the International Hockey League the year before, but by the time Gove was done playing for the Broncos, the IHL had folded, leaving many players without jobs and plenty others scrambling for a new league.
So where did Gove turn to next? Where better than the future Hockeyville, USA?
“I had the opportunity to go to Johnstown, and I mainly went there because the coach at the time was Scott Allen, a great guy who I had heard tremendous things about,” Gove said, “The town itself, I really enjoyed it.”
You know what they say: Come for the coach, stay for the city.
It wasn’t hard for Gove to endear himself to the Chiefs fans, scoring 49 points in 54 games, but the locals quickly impressed him with their behavior both in and away from the rink.
“It’s a blue-collar town. They work hard,” Gove said. “It was a place where the fan support was great. We had loyal fans, and they were knowledgable hockey fans to be honest with you… Really, it’s just a passionate hockey town.”
When Kraft extended its annual Hockeyville contest to the United States, it claimed it was looking for the most exceptionally passionate of over 15,000 communities to award the title of “Hockeyville, USA.” After narrowing down the field to 10 finalists, voting was opened to the public. Johnstown emerged victorious.
From among 15,000-plus to No. 1 overall. That certainly constitutes as a “passionate hockey town.”
To no fault of the support of the Chiefs faithful, the team relocated to Greenville, South Carolina after 22 seasons in Johnstown. Even though Gove was nearly a full decade removed from his single season as a Chief, he realized how hard that loss hit the hockey-crazed city.
“They always cared about their team. When they lost their team, for that close following of fans, it was tough,” Gove said.
The relocation drew eerie similarities to the history of the fictional hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, from the movie Slap Shot. A majority of Paul Newman’s cult classic was filmed in Johnstown and even inspired the Johnstown team’s name whenever it was founded in 1987, ten years after Slap Shot was released.
Even before the untimely end of the Johnstown Chiefs, the movie and the hockey team were nearly synonymous with one another.
“We used to always joke and throw some lines from the movie,” Give said of his time with the Chiefs. “Whenever we’d hear sirens go by, we’d always say, ‘Oh, the Hansons are here,’ and stuff like that.”
Slap Shot spawned two much-maligned sequels, but hopefully tonight’s preseason game between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay serves as a much more favorable preview for a second chance in Johnstown. Gove realizes how much this one game means, even if Johnstown’s sequel never comes.
“When I heard they got the game, I knew it would be great for the town,” Gove said. “It’s a place that loves hockey. For them to get a game down there, especially with Pittsburgh, it’s going to be a neat experience.”