Jan. 7—Johnstown native Chris Stewart appreciated the significance of his working in his 2,000 game in professional hockey on Thursday night.
"It's a number. I'm proud of it," said Stewart, who has spent 27 years in the pro game and got his start with the former Johnstown Chiefs in the ECHL. "I've been around a long time. I pride myself on doing a good job to stay here in this business. In the end, it's a number, a big number, but a personal thing and not a team thing.
"It's just being a part of a great organization, with great coaches over the years, great GMs, and making the proper decisions to allow myself to stick around," the Greater Johnstown High School and Indiana (Pa.) graduate added.
Closing on 1,000
Stewart also made an impact on another area product working in the NHL. Westmont Hilltop and Penn State University graduate Doug Bennett will work in his 1,000th professional game when his Carolina Hurricanes play the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 15.
In his sixth season as the Hurricanes' head athletic trainer, Bennett, actually replaced Stewart on the Johnstown Chiefs training staff in 2004-05, when Stewart left after 9 1/2 seasons with the team to join the American Hockey League's Lowell Lock Monsters.
" 'Stew' was my athletic trainer when I was a high school athlete at Westmont." Bennett said.
"To see him get to 2,000 games is unbelievable. When he moved up from the Chiefs, I was able to fill that spot and that kind of got me going in the whole hockey world. Game No. 1."
Now, Bennett is closing in on Game No. 1,000.
"It's a lot of work," said Bennett, who has spent 13 seasons with the Hurricanes, including seven years as an assistant athletic trainer. "To be honest, when it all started, it probably wasn't something I saw. The more I was around it, and fell in love with it, it just kind of crept up on me."
'Proud of Doug'
The 2000 Westmont Hilltop graduate spent time on the training staff at Penn State during his undergraduate years, and he contributed at the University of North Carolina as he earned his master's degree.
Bennett worked in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks (2003) and the Philadelphia Eagles (2006). In addition to being mentored by Stewart, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, Bennett received guidance from Johnstown native Chris Peduzzi, the former head athletic trainer and Super Bowl winner with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I'm proud of Doug. He's done a great job," Stewart said. "He's put in the hours and put in the work. I'm happy to see he's had success like he has."
Blueprint for success
Bennett had a Johnstown-area blueprint to follow.
Stewart was part of Stanley Cup wins in Carolina (2006) and Pittsburgh (2009, 2016, 2017). The Cambria County Sports Hall of Famer was named to the NHL Eastern Conference All-Star Game staff last season.
His latest milestone was quietly noted on Thursday night in Las Vegas.
"Business as usual. All the guys said, 'Congratulations,' " Stewart said. "(Coach Mike Sullivan) recognized me after the game to the team. It was bittersweet with the loss, but a nice show of respect from Sully and the team."
Stewart appreciated the fact that he's among a group of Johnstown-area natives who have had success with professional organizations in important behind-the scenes roles.
Stewart, Bennett and Peduzzi all made their mark as head athletic trainers.
Recently retired former Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze also earned four Stanley Cups and Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame status.
"It all goes back to the Johnstown attitude, the Johnstown mentality and stemming around the Chiefs," Stewart said.
"Putting in the work and showing your passion to the people.
"(Former Chiefs coach) Scott Allen, I can't credit him enough, and (former Chiefs GM) Toby O'Brien. They have gotten me to where I am today. Western PA Sports Medicine helped me to make that decision to move forward.
"Obviously, I can't say enough about Dana Heinze, who I've been with for so long. He's experienced this as well and to work with him all of those years made things a lot easier."
Watching Stewart reach 2,000 games and having his 1,000th game looming, Bennett pondered the future.
"When the players get to 1,000 games, I always say, 'Here's to 1,000 more.' They always look at me and laugh," Bennett said. "Who knows? Here's to 1,000 more, maybe.
"I love what I do. I like being around the team and contributing even if it's that smallest percent to help them achieve their goals."
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.