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Johns' WHA experience comes full circle

| Friday, March 11, 2005

Chris Johns' involvement with the Westmoreland Hockey Association's Laurel Hockey Tournament has come full circle.

Twenty-five years after Johns made his tournament debut, he coached his son, Brendan, and his Eagles teammates to the championship game of the Mite "B" Division last weekend.

"I started playing in this tournament in 1980, and after I played six or seven years, I decided I enjoyed it too much to give it up. So, now I'm a coach," Johns said.

As Johns matured, the tournament blossomed. The 34th annual event, which is held during three March weekends, features 44 teams from six states and 23 youth hockey organizations. Westmoreland, the host county, has 11 teams in the field.

"The quality of hockey is really good," said Johns, of Greensburg. "It seems to get better every year, and you would be surprised at how good some of these kids are. The skill level is impressive."

Players ages 6 to 17 compete in Midget, Bantam, Pee Wee, Squirt and Mite divisions. All of the Westmoreland teams play in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League and face squads both local (Fayette County, Johnstown, Butler) and far-flung (Cleveland, Hagerstown, Md., and Richmond, Va.)

"The quality of hockey is what brings teams here," Johns said. "And, I think the fans know what kind of hockey they'll see. We've been getting pretty big crowds, and I hope that continues."

Two Westmoreland teams advanced to title games last weekend, with one winning a championship. The Bantam A Minor team, behind three-goal games from A.J. Defazio and Ryan Kopcho, topped Johnstown.

In the Mite B Division, the Pittsburgh Aviators did something no other team could do: stop Brendan Johns. The coach's son scored 15 goals in the Eagles' first three games -- all victories -- but had Westmoreland's only score in a 3-1 loss.

In last Sunday's other title contest, the North Hills Vipers defeated Winterhurst, Ohio, in an A Minor game.

This week's play begins at 6 tonight with a four-game slate, with 14 games to be played beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday. Four championship games will be contested from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The tournament concludes March 18-20.

Additional Information:

Westmoreland Hockey Association's 34th annual Laurel Hockey Tournament

Where : Kirk S. Nevin Arena, Greensburg

When : Games start at 6 p.m. today and 7 a.m. Saturday, with four championship games to be held beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday. The tournament concludes March 18-20.

Tickets : Admission is free.

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