Life imitates 'Slap Shot': Johnstown loses the Chiefs

In a case of life imitating Slap Shot, Johnstown, Pennsylvania's failing hockey team—the Chiefs—is moving to Greenville, South Carolina.

Slap Shot Hanson Brothers
The Hanson Brothers.

In the 1977 cult hit Slap Shot, when player/coach Reggie Dunlop learns the Charlestown Chiefs are folding, he plants a story in the local newspaper announcing that the team is moving south. In a case of life imitating art, the real-life Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Chiefs—founded in 1988, largely due to the success of the film—are moving south to Greenville, South Carolina.   

This Saturday, April 3, the Chiefs will play their final home game, hosting the Elmira Jackals in their 60-year-old, four-thousand seat arena. It seems the movie—which starred Paul Newman and was filmed in Johnstown (60 miles east of Pittsburgh) in tribute to the Johnstown Jets—can no longer sustain the franchise. (The real-life Jets folded the same year Slap Shot was released, after a flood damaged the team’s ice-making equipment.) The 2009-2010 Chiefs have a mere 900 season ticket holders and don’t have the Hanson Brothers to attract fans, though they do have a right-winger named Bear Trapp. 

The Johnstown Chiefs are owned and coached by Neil Smith, 56, who bought the chronically-short-of-cash club in 2002. Smith is most famous for serving as general manager of the New York Rangers, leading the Rangers to their last Stanley Cup championship in 1994. Smith hopes he can bring a new team back to Johnstown in the fall—one that plays in the real-life Federal League (the name of the league in Slap Shot). Minority owner Ned Nakles is said to be selling his 10 percent stake in the team, but forming a nonprofit to retain rights to the Chiefs name, statistics, records, etc.