New Chatham University head hockey coach Michael Gershon didn’t play or coach a game with a Johnstown team.
But Gershon has had more than a few brushes with the city.
Named head coach of the NCAA Division III Cougars program on Wednesday, Gershon once spent 10 days practicing with the former Johnstown Chiefs team. The defenseman hoped to land a spot on coach Ian Herbers’ roster in 2008-09.
“I spent a week with the Chiefs during my senior year of college at SUNY-Brockport,” Gershon said on Friday. “I was going to end up playing some games. I was packing up for the bus, but there ended up being an injury that day at practice. It was a forward who was injured, so they needed a forward instead of a defenseman.
“Still, I got a taste of what pro hockey was like.”
He was a Wheeling Nailers defender when the ECHL team played 10 of its home games in Johnstown in 2010-11.
The local ties didn’t end there.
Johnstown Tomahawks fans saw plenty of Gershon during his two seasons as head coach of the former Port Huron Fighting Falcons team in the North American Hockey League and his one year as coach of the former Keystone Ice Miners franchise.
This past season, Gershon was back at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial as an assistant coach on the Division I Robert Morris University team that played an exhibition game against the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks.
“I’ve been to Johnstown a lot of times,” said Gershon, 35.
Before landing the Chatham job, Gershon spent four seasons as assistant coach at Robert Morris University. The Colonials won the first round of the Atlantic Hockey Conference Tournament before the remainder of the 2019-20 season was canceled. The previous two seasons, the team made it to the semifinal and final rounds under head coach Derek Schooley and Gershon.
“Coach Gershon brings excitement and energy to the Chatham program,” Cougars Athletic Director Leonard Trevino said. “His background, previous success and experience is the ideal match for our program.”
As a NAHL coach, Gershon led 31 players to college hockey careers. Including his one season as an assistant coach, Gershon helped Port Huron make three consecutive playoff runs. He had an 88-57-19 NAHL coaching record before moving to the college game.
“I wasn’t looking to leave Robert Morris because I think they have a really good team and we brought in a lot of really high-quality players,” Gershon said.
“The Tomahawks fans know we had (former Tomahawks) Cam Hebert, Roman Kraemer and Quinn Warmuth. There is a lot of talent there.
“But the opportunity to be a head coach at the college level, it’s few and far between,” he said. “This job filled a lot of boxes that I was looking for in terms of the support from the university and not having to move. We love Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania area.”
In addition to his on-ice connections, Gershon has family ties to the local area.
His father-in-law Rick Price is chief of police in East Taylor Township, and his mother-in-law Sally Price is part of the Jackson Township Fire Department-Emergency Medical Services.
His brother-in-law is a member of the Johnstown Fire Department, and brother-in-law Ricky Price is with the West Hills Regional Fire Department and Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (HART).
“They’re front line, especially right now,” Gershon said.
His wife, Brandy, played hockey for Conemaugh Valley High School with her twin brother, Ricky.
The Gershons’ 21-month-old son Jaxson debuted on the ice at 1st Summit Arena.
“When we came out to Johnstown to play that exhibition game, we have a 21-month-old and the first time he ever touched the ice on skates was at the War Memorial,” Gershon said of the Jan. 4 contest. “It was a really special moment for us. We did it right after practice. It was a cool experience.”