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Mike Mastovich: Nearly 60 years later, Johnstown Jets tough guy Mair in spotlight again

Jan. 17—Jimmy Mair made a first impression on Johnstown hockey fans that still resonates after nearly 60 years.

In his first game skating with the Johnstown Jets, Mair — a 5-foot-9, 190-pound defenseman from Schumacher, Ontario — tangled with New Haven Blades tough guy Blake Ball, then known as one of the fiercest fighters in the old Eastern Hockey League.

"That put the instantaneous connection (to the Johnstown fans) on it right there," Mair said during a recent telephone interview, recalling the Oct. 21, 1966, fight. "Not to belittle, but Johnstown never really had somebody that grabbed the bull by the horns, so to speak, to that point.

"When they started running around and were just basically abusing our players, (former Jets star) Dick Roberge looked at me and said, 'We don't have to put up with that.' I said, 'No, we don't.' "

A professional career that eventually included 76 games in the National Hockey League started on a physical note.

Johnstown fans instantly took to Mair, now 77 and retired from both hockey and an ensuing 29-year career as a police officer in his native Canada.

'Means everything to me'

While the number of fans who once watched Mair skate with the Johnstown Jets from 1966 to 1969 has thinned as the decades roll on, the remaining old-timers and a new generation will have an opportunity to see him on the ice at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial on Jan. 26.

The Johnstown Tomahawks will honor Mair before a North American Hockey League game against the Maine Nordiques. It will be Mair's first trip to Johnstown since his final season with the Jets in 1968-69.

"This means everything to me," said Mair, who scored 57 goals, totaled 158 points and collected a whopping 652 penalty minutes in 194 regular-season games with the Jets.

"I'm bringing my two grandsons, Brendan (Trombley, 22) and T.J. (Delguidice, 16), and I think I'm a little more excited for them to see where I played and to meet the people in Johnstown."

'Protector role'

The officials quickly broke up the fight in the Jets 1966-67 home opener against New Haven, but both Ball and Mair knew more was to come. Round 2 took place a few weeks later.

Mair also earned respect for another locally legendary fight against Long Island Ducks tough guy Wayne Kitchen, and a bout with New Jersey Devils enforcer Rosaire Paiement.

"I was a young kid when I got to Johnstown," Mair said. "I just finished junior hockey. Johnny Mitchell was the Jets GM (general manager). We talked. I just carried on with basically my style of playing hockey.

"It was more of a protector role. If you touched somebody, you knew I was coming after you."

'Old-time hockey'

Mair was much more than a fighter. His goals and points totals prove as much, but his physical presence carried weight on the ice, in the locker room and in the stands.

"That was old-time hockey," Mair said. "When the word got out, and it spread through the league — who you're looking for, who is going to run you, who is going to be finesse, who is going to score the goals — I challenged a few guys and I was challenged.

"They talk about tough guys in hockey. If you haven't lost a fight, you haven't fought too many. Most of the fights, you could toss a coin."

On some nights, multiple skirmishes broke out.

During his second season with the Jets, Mair set an Amateur Hockey Association of United States record at Syracuse on Dec. 7, 1967. That night, Mair collected a single-game mark with 10 infractions for 48 penalty minutes.

He received four minor penalties, four majors, a misconduct and a match misconduct before leaving in the third period of Johnstown's 9-5 road win.

"Forty-eight minutes," Mair said. "Somebody took a run at one of our guys. I took a run at one of their guys. I went down. Somebody came over and challenged me. I fought with him. The next guy came and I fought with him.

"The penalty at the end, I was already off the ice, and a guy came over to the box and said, 'Come on, I want to go.' So I stepped back on the ice and went with him, too."

'No mustard please'

Syracuse also was the site of an incident that could have fit nicely into the "Slap Shot" movie script. A fan heckled Mair as he served a penalty — nothing unusual. After the agitator tossed a hot dog at him, Mair left the box in pursuit.

The incident led to local police settling the matter, Mair said. Jets GM Mitchell later came to his player's defense during a legal proceeding. The league suspended Mair a game and fined him $50.

"Johnny represented me in court in Syracuse," Mair said. "After finishing hockey and doing 29 years of policing, I still have to laugh. It was an altercation between myself and a fan. Johnny's defense for me was, 'Your Honor, he threw a hot dog at him and he got mustard all over his uniform.'

"Johnny was sincere in saying that. Years after, when I got into policing, I thought to myself, 'Johnny, oh, my gosh.' "

After his time in Johnstown, Mair played in the American Hockey League with the Quebec Aces and Richmond Robins. He also laced up his skates in the Central Hockey League with the Seattle Totems.

His talents and physical play took him to the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers (1970-72, four games), New York Islanders (1972-73, 49) and Vancouver Canucks (1972-75, 23).

Through nine professional seasons, Mair still lists Johnstown hockey fans among his favorites.

The locals reciprocated.

A Tribune-Democrat feature on Mair noted that attendance picked up after he emerged as a physical Jets player. The team had 12 games with crowds of 3,000 or more at the War Memorial, including two 4,000-plus home dates after November 1966.

"I played junior, American League, NHL, Western League," Mair said. "There are no better fans than Johnstown fans. They backed you when you won. They backed you when you lost. Fans aren't like that today."