In its ninth year, the Slapshot Cup Tournament is bigger than ever.
The three-day event will bring together more than 500 hockey players for an alumni event that includes hockey for skaters ranging in age from their 20s to their mid-50s, with players occasionally playing into the seventh decade.
“We have 57 games played over 39 hours in six divisions in two venues,” said Josh Piro, the tournament director and former Bishop McCort High School four-time state champion forward who played for the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs.
“We have 34 teams, with 15 players on a team per average,” added Piro, a Johnstown native who now resides in Toronto, Ontario.
The Slapshot Cup event will begin on Friday and run through Sunday with games held both at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial and the North Central Recreation Center.
Three age groups with two divisions in each will play games during what has been dubbed a hockey reunion that brings players from across the country, including a group of former Chiefs.
“We maxed out. I don’t think that we could do any more teams,” Piro said. “I think 34 is the magic number. There are only so many hours during the weekend. We’re actually having one game on Thursday with a couple local teams that were willing to do that game.”
Hockey will be broken down by age groups: 21-and-over; 35-and-over; and 50-and-over.
There will be Division A and B in each age group.
The championship games will be played Sunday at 1st Summit Arena.
“Last year we had 28 entrees,” said David Piro, Josh’s father and assistant tournament director who handles much of the local preparation and coordination. “This year we have an addition of six teams. Eleven of those teams in the tournament are new teams from all over the place. We’re thrilled. It’s growing.”
David Piro enthusiastically recited a list of new cities or teams about to hit the Slapshot Cup ice for the first time.
“Two from Michigan, a new team from Detroit,” David said.
“A team from Rochester, New York. We have a team from Northern Virginia that is picking up people from North Carolina and combining a roster.
“We’ve got a new team from Princeton, New Jersey and another one from that area that is going to be called Jersey. Buffalo, Whitehall, New Kensington.
“We have a Bedford team that is a combination of guys from Altoona, State College and Bedford. We have a team from Colorado.”
When the Slapshot Cup Tournament debuted in 2010, it was viewed as one way to help fill the gap left by the then-recent departure of the ECHL Chiefs to Greenville, South Carolina.
Old friends and teammates were reunited.
There was camaraderie, competitive hockey, good food and plenty of adult beverages.
Anyone who thinks nearly a decade later that this is simply “beer-league” level of hockey is mistaken. Though, there probably will be plenty of beer consumed during three nights.
In recent years, the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau worked with the tournament, which has brought the likes of Tyler Kennedy to the arena and honored youth hockey, local legends of hockey and even members of the media as part of the annual event.
The tournament team, which includes assistant director Marla Kelley, works closely with War Memorial GM Steve St. John and his staff.
“It’s a year-round job. In some ways it’s getting easier because this is our ninth year,” Josh Piro said. “But you’ve still got to put in the work and collect everybody’s rosters and put together the souvenir program.
“There is just a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes to make the tournament run smoothly when everyone shows up on the weekend.”
As is the case in most large events, the success of the Slapshot Cup hinges upon the attention to details.
“From working with Steve St. John and both the rinks to make sure we have staff at both rinks to making sure we have locker room attendants, officials, everyone has hotel rooms and accomodations and making sure the scoresheets are prepared,” Josh Piro said.
“You can imagine all the tiny jobs that are necessary to make sure the tournament goes.”
The list of tasks might seem endless during the three-plus day event. But the Piros and their team believe that’s what makes the Slapshot Cup so special.
“That’s one of the fun things about the tournament,” Josh Piro said. “A lot of people have to come togerther and there are a lot of responsibilities.
“There are a lot of volunteers and a lot of people involved. We’re delegating duties and trusting everyone to do their job for it to be a successful tournament.”
The formula works.
The local hockey community has embraced the Slapshot Cup for nearly a decade.
It’s a destination for players from across the country – sometimes, across the border. Some of those played hockey here and made memories whether they skated on the high school, college or professional levels.
“Bigger, better, growing,” Josh Piro said of the tournament.
“A hockey reunion.”