Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cambria County War Memorial Arena, Johnstown PA

Basic Information
Team: Johnstown Tomahawks (North American Hockey League)
Game: Tomahawks vs Soo Eagles-10/20/12
Team Website: www.johnstowntomahawks.com
Ticket Information: (814) 536-GOAL
Tourism Information: (800) 237-8590 or www.visitjohnstownpa.com
Online Broadcasts:
Local Newspaper: Johnstown Tribune-Democrat www.tribdem.com

Team Information: Two seasons after losing the ECHL's Chiefs, who moved to Creenville, SC, hockey returned to Johnstown in the NAHL's Johnstown Tomahawks. The NAHL is a "junior A" league which serves as a "showcase" league for players 16-19 years of age who are looking to go to the next level and play in college or the pros.
Seating Capacity: The War Memorial has a seating capacity for hockey of 4,001.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in October 1950, the War Memorial has been the center of hockey in the area since the building opened it's doors. The building's first tenant was the Johnstown Jets, who played in the Eastern Hockey League and the North American Hockey League from 1950 through 1977. During the 1975 season, writer Nancy Dowd, who's brother Ned played for the Jets, wrote a screenplay based on the rough and tumble adventures of the team. In the screenplay, the Johnstown Jets became the Charlestown Chiefs, and Dowd's work eventually became the legendary movie "Slap Shot". Much of the movie was filmed at the War Memorial and in and around downtown Johnstown.

The arena has also hosted many high school and college sports, and has hosted indoor football on two separate occasions.
Getting There: (From the Pennsylvania Turnpike/I-76 eastbound):  Take the turnpike to exit 58 (I-376/US22 Monroeville). Follow signs for US Route 22 East. Proceed east for approximately 50 miles into Johnstown. Exit onto PA-56 east into Johnstown for approximately ten miles.Turn left at the fourth traffic light after Point Stadium. The Conference Center is on the right hand side and the War Memorial is on the left hand side.

Other Tenants: The War Memorial is the home of several local and regional high school and college sporting events.

On The Town: The largest city in Cambria County, Johnstown has a population of just under twenty one thousand. The city is located in west central Pennsylvania, seventy miles east of Pittsburgh and forty miles west of Altoona.
Johnstown, which was originally settled in 1700, is probably best known for the eight major floods that have devastated the town. The "Great Flood" of 1899 occurred when the South Fork Dam collapsed after a hard rainstorm, sending water from the Conemaugh River crashing into the town. The flooding and subsequent fires cost over two thousand people their lives. Despite being declared "Flood Free" after work by the ArmyCorps of Engineers in the 1950's, another major flood in 1977 caused more extensive damage to the city, which was beginning to show signs of decline due to the reduction of steel production.

Noted natives of the area include former congressman John Murtha, Cy Young Award winning pitcher Pete Vuckovich, Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, and Ohio University football coach Frank Solich.
Nearby Airport: While John Murtha-Cambria County Airport is the closest to Johnstown, the largest major airport is Pittsburgh International, approximately eighty miles from Johnstown.

What To Do: While this trip did not avail me much time for sightseeing, there is a nice sized museum complex which features the Johnstown Flood Museum and the Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center. the complex, which is on the outskirts of downtown Johnstown, tells not only the story of the floods that have helped shape Johnstown, also tells the tales of the immigrants which came to the area seeking a better life. For more information, call (888) 222-1889 or visit www.jaha.org.

Where To Eat Before The Game: To be honest, other than a Subway, there is nothing in terms of dining that I could see in the vicinity of the arena other than the Harrigan's Cafe in the Holiday Inn that I stayed at.

Where To Stay: The offical team hotel of the Tomahawaks is the Holiday Inn-Johnstown. Located a five minute walk from the War Memorial, the hotel has all of the standard amenities that one could want. The team does have a special rate of $79.00 per night, which was a little higher than I wanted to pay, but the simple convenience factor of being able to walk two blocks to and from the arena made the price a little more tolerable. While the rooms were quite nice and well supplied, the staff of the hotel left a little to be desired. For more information, call (814) 535-7777 or visit www.holidayinn.com.

Ticket Prices: Tomahawks tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (club and center ice), $10.00 (sideline), $8.00 (end zone), and $6.00 (all youth).

Parking: I can't give this a grade, since I parked at the hotel for my stay. However, there is a public garage behind the Holiday Inn where I stayed, and a large surface lot just down Market St between the hotel and the arena. I'm not sure if those lots charge for games.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office are located on the northeast corner of the building, at the intersection of Market and Napoleon streets.

The Good Seats: Since there are only four thousand seats in the building, you pretty much get a good view no matter where you are. A recent renovation of the arena replaced the old wooden slat seats with new plastic chairs.

Stadium Food: In an "old school" building like the War Memorial, concessions are "old school" as well. There are several concession stands in the main concourse, but the selection at all of them is your standard arena fare. As far as I was able to ascertain, there really wasn't a "signature" item sold at any of the stands. I was able to purchase two hot dogs, an order of french fries, and a large Pepsi for a very agreeable $9.75, but the food service staff was, sad to say, pretty clueless. I had to wait almost ten minutes for my hot dogs to be cooked, since there was no food ready when the gates opened. The guy who took my order handed me my boat of fries when I placed the order, but (with a rather glassy-eyed stare) told me it would "be a few minutes" for the hot dogs. Ten minutes later, he handed me the dogs, but the fries were ice cold. Fortunately, he replaced the fries, and without even a "sorry for the wait", walked off.

In terms of taste, the dogs weren't half bad, as they were fresh, hot, and served on a fresh bun. However, the fries left a lot to be desired.
Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the War Memorial:

Hot Dog: $2.00   Hamburger: $4.50  Personal Pizza (Domino's): $6.00   Nachos: $3.75  Ice Cream: $2.50   French Fries: $3.00   Draft Beer: $5.00   Pretzel: $3.00 

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the home of the Tomahawks.

ATM: An AmeriServ ATM is available in the main concourse near the main entrance/box office.

Souvenirs: A small souvenir counter is located in the main concourse near the entrance. This stand sells an average sized line of souvenir items.

Restrooms: Restrooms are located liberally throughout the main concourse. While the facilities are a little on the archaic side, they are clean and well stocked. I did get a laugh out of the sign on the inside of the mens' room door which said "Stop! Did you wash your hands?".
Mascot: A large red bird named Chopper prowls the seating area during the game and in the concourse before and after.

Dance Team: None.  

Program: A complimentary full-color program is handed out to all fans as they enter the building. The program is very informative, with info on the players, game articles, and features, and is apparently updated after every few games.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The War Memorial has a small "old-school" scoreboard hanging over center ice, which only gives the basic game information. However, at the War Memorial, it works nicely, as a larger, more modern board with all the HD bells and whistles simply wouldn't fit. I do have to say that the building has great acoustics, and the public address announcer and the game music selections were clear as a bell.

Arena Staff: Didn't see a lot of them, but they seemed to be pretty much "on the ball".

Atmosphere: It seemed pretty quiet in the War Memorial the game that I attended, but I have to chalk at least some of that up to the fact that night's game will be confused with the final game of the '73 Canada Cup or the US/USSR game in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The building started to get a bit more fired up as the game went on and got significantly chippier.

Arena Features: In the arena, there is a small, yet well done Veterans Museum, which salutes the men and women from the area who served their country in the Armed Forces. While not particularly big in size, it definitely is worth a visit in between periods or before the game.

Overall Rating: The War Memorial in Johnstown is a definite throwback to that old fashioned "hockey barn" which is now being slowly phased out in favor of more modern multi-purpose arenas with the most up to date facilities. With the current state of the economy in Johnstown, I don't see that happening in the forseeable future, so you still have time to see what it was like to see a hockey game when it was the place to be in the fifties on a Saturday night. While Johnstown might not be a "travel destination", a visit to the War Memorial will definitely "get you into the spirit of the thing".