Fans of “Slap Shot” know that a good portion of the legendary hockey comedy was filmed not too far away, in the Cambria County community of Johnstown.
The appearance of the city – tucked into a valley at the confluence of the Conemaugh, Little Conemaugh and Stonycreek rivers – hasn’t changed all that much since the mid-1970s. Its residents still sport the same type of blue-collar work ethic that was prevalent when Paul Newman, Strother Martin and other Holywood types converged on the town for its biggest dose of publicity since the Great Flood of 1889.
Moon Township resident Jon Kostial still was a long way from being born when “Slap Shot” hit the silver screen, but he certainly is familiar with its legacy. And that’s one of the reasons that he’s excited to be playing hockey in Johnstown.
Kostial recently signed to play for the Johnstown Tomahawks in the North American Hockey League, shortly after his 19th birthday. The city’s proximity to Pittsburgh is a big plus in his book, as it will give his parents, Jim and Ann Kostial, an opportunity to watch him play without having to travel all that far.
They’ve been watching Jon’s games since he strapped on his first pair of skates and hit the ice around age 6, emulating his hockey-playing cousins.
“Back then, hockey wasn’t really as big as it is now,” he says, prior to Sidney Crosby’s arrival in Pittsburgh and the subsequent rejuvenation of the sport in this area.
By that time, Kostial had eased away from participation in the likes of baseball and football to concentrate on hockey. As a freshman at Bishop Canevin High School, he led the team in scoring, and he finished among the top five in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League the following season.
After that, he shifted his emphasis to playing for the Pittsburgh Hornets, a top developmental program. During the 2011-12 season, he registered 19 goals and 32 assists in 56 games.
The league in which he now competes represents junior hockey Tier II, “a very high level of hockey that a very small percentage of players get to achieve,” Kostial explained. About his experience so far with the Tomahawks:
“I couldn’t say I’d rather be anywhere else,” he said. “Between the players and the staff and how they run things, they really do care about you.”
Johnstown is off to a good start during its first season in the league, both in the standings and putting fans in the seats of the Cambria County War Memorial. The Tomahawks travel to Jamestown, NY, for games on Friday and Saturday, and members of Kostial’s family are making the trip to help him celebrate Thanksgiving.
He said his hockey aspirations focus, as they have since he was a youngster, on playing for a Division I collegiate program. Several schools have expressed interest, including Robert Morris University.
In the meantime, he looks to enjoy his stay in Johnstown, or anywhere else he might end up playing.
“I will take whatever path hockey gives me.”