JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper is a strong proponent for the Kraft Hockeyville USA event, contested in Canada for the better part of a decade.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, proved Tuesday night an ideal location to serve as the first-ever Kraft Hockeyville USA.
The historic city, located about 90 minutes east of Pittsburgh, came together in the spring and secured the honor during a nationwide competition. That earned Johnstown the right to a nationally-televised NHL preseason hockey game Tuesday between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning at the famed Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
“I think it’s really important to do this in the United States,” Cooper said. “They’ve done it in Canada and it’s been a smashing success, but to do it in the U.S. and to see what’s going on now is huge for the game.
“You’re probably going to get a little nervous because this is the inaugural event in the U.S., but if this is any indication, it’s a big-time success. Hopefully, they continue because this does nothing but help the game.”
The Penguins ultimately prevailed, 4-2, as fans in attendance had the chance to see superstars like Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Olli Maatta, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Callahan, among others, shine in action.
This event was more than just Tuesday night’s preseason tilt though.
“The hockey world needs to keep growing fans,” Kunitz said. “We need to be able to show people the high skill the game brings.
“Maybe there’s one kid out there who starts skating, then picks up a hockey stick and becomes the next superstar.”
Thousands braved heavy rains during a red carpet event in the morning as the NHL stars signed autographs on their way into the quaint Cambria County War Memorial Arena, which underwent a $150,000 facelift, renovations only made possible because of the contest.
Thousands more packed the historic 4,000-seat facility for the morning skate and the arena was filled to capacity for Tuesday night’s game, overflowing with emotion for NHL action in a city with a steeped hockey tradition that spans more than 60 years.
“This is something special,” Penguins’ defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “You can see how much this means to the community. I think no one in the town of Johnstown is at work today because they’re all either outside, in here watching practice or trying to be part of this.
“It’s so cool that the guys in this room are able to come in and see this passionate community. Guys are excited to be part of this.”
Fans were just as excited.
Aidan Rice, 11, plays for the local Johnstown Warriors, which had a chance to test the Hockeyville USA ice a day earlier at the War Memorial Arena. Rice also had the opportunity to meet Malkin, who autographed his No. 71 replica jersey in the white center of the Penguins’ crest.
“I never met him before,” Rice said, his eyes widening as he recalled his meeting with Malkin, who had the fans in a tizzy when he scored the eventual game-winner in the second period.
“He was tall. It was great to see him.”
Luka Goughnour, 13, of Johnstown, had a puck signed by Malkin and Kunitz.
“I met Kunitz, but never Malkin before,” Goughnour said. “I’m a huge Penguins’ fan. It’s pretty cool, the interactions and just them noticing me and writing their names on my hockey puck is really special.”
For Lovejoy, that’s what it’s all about.
“I think this is how you build fans,” he said. “They’re building young fans. That’s the demographic the NHL wants. You can see the impressions both teams are making on young fans.”
The players appreciated the event just as much.
Stamkos had his photo taken with the famed Hanson Brothers, fabled characters from “Slap Shot,” the wildly-popular cult classic hockey movie, filmed party at the Cambria County War Memorial.
“To have the game here, obviously you see all the support of the fans coming out and really that’s what it’s all about,” Stamkos said. “It’s for the fans, it’s for the people of Johnstown that obviously have worked very hard to get something like this and deserve it.
“You don’t get the chance to see players up close like this every day. It’s great to see the community come together and support an event like this.”
The event was a true celebration of hockey, and not just an exhibition between the hometown Penguins and visiting Lightning. Johnstown was able to capture the spirit.
“This is a special place and we’ve been welcomed so warmly,” Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. “It shows the game is growing and there are passionate fans all over the place.
“We appreciate those fans, and even though the crowd will be predominantly Penguins’ fans, they welcomed us warmly, asking for autographs, saying ‘good luck this season,’ ‘stay healthy.’ It was a wonderful welcome for us.
“It goes a long way and it impressed me.”
It was all part of a successful initial Hockeyville USA celebration. And Johnstown, Pennsylvania was the perfect host.
“I remember when we were approached to do this game and we thought about it internally, ‘do we want to do the extra exhibition?” Cooper said. “And the benefits of what this game means, not just to ourselves, but to the hockey community, the NHL and Johnstown, Pennsylvania far outweighed playing an extra exhibition.
“It’s well worth it and I’m so glad we came to this.”
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.
In order to comply with new requirements from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Hockey will be implementing a national level background screening program. This program will replace all USAH Affiliate coordinated background screen programs.
Why must officials be screened?
Per USA Hockey and USOPC policy, all coaches, officials, board members, employees, volunteers, billets and anyone else who will have regular contact with, or authority over, minor athletes are required to submit a background screen before any contact with minor athletes.
Who is required to be screened?
Officials who are 18 years-old (or older) prior to June 1 of the current year.
Any official, 18 years-old (or older) without a completed valid background screen (national or USAH Affiliate coordinated) after April 1, 2019.
All national background screens are valid for two seasons, and starting on June 1, 2020 a national background screen must be completed and in good standing before receiving an officiating card and crest.
What are the timelines for launching the national background screen program?
Beginning on April 1, 2020, background screening will be conducted by our national background screen vendor, National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), and information on background screening will be included following your registration.
As of March 22, 2020, applicants will no longer be able to submit new USA Hockey background screens through USAH Affiliate vendors, and will not be able to submit new screens through NCSI until April 1, 2020.
If you were screened after April 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 season, your screen is valid for the 2020-21 season, and you will not need to be screened under the new system until prior to the 2021-22 season. If your most recent screen is from prior to April 1, 2019, you will need to be screened under the new system, after April 1, 2020, in order to participate in the upcoming season.
All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons. For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.
How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at USAHockey.com.
Background screens through NCSI under the national program will cost $30 for all domestic screens. For international screens (members who have lived outside of the U.S. for six consecutive months in any one county during the past 7 years) the flat rate fee is $150. If that country is solely Canada, the flat rate fee is $75.
Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
Please refer to the USA Hockey Background Screen webpage at USAHockey.com.