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Mike Mastovich: Former Penguin will focus on veterans, youth players in return to 1st Summit Arena

Tribune-Democrat - 1/26/2024

Jan. 26—Ryan Malone had skated at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown years before he played in the National Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I remember one game — it was a peewee or squirt tournament," Malone said during a Thursday interview. "There was one game, I scored a few goals. I remember the boards being above my head."

Malone will revisit the legendary War Memorial on Saturday, but at 6-foot-4, the former NHL standout will have no problem clearing the boards.

The Malone Family Foundation will host the first Battle Buddy Clinic at 5 p.m., prior to the Johnstown Tomahawks game against the Maine Nordiques at 7 p.m. The clinic features Johnstown Warriors youth hockey players and the Johnstown Generals veterans hockey team.

Ryan Malone, who played 647 regular-season games during 11 NHL seasons, will be joined by his father, Greg Malone, another former Penguins skater and scout, as well as his brother, Mark Malone, who played with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers and Bakersfield Condors in 2006-07, when the former Johnstown Chiefs team called the War Memorial home.

'Pay it forward'

"Ultimately, we're excited to bring our passion and the love for the game to Johnstown," Ryan Malone said. "The game has given us so much. To pay it forward with honoring our veterans and helping the youth players is just a great opportunity."

Twenty local youth hockey players from the Johnstown Warriors 10- and 12-under squads will participate in skill development and on-ice training provided by the Malone family.

Each youth hockey player will be paired with a veteran or active duty military member who plays on the Johnstown Generals team.

The buddy pairings are intended to facilitate camaraderie, mentorship and support, which aligns with the Malone Family Foundation's emphasis on military and first-responder families, wellness and access to the game of hockey.

"Lacing up skates brings everyone together," Ryan Malone said. "The youth can really admire and look up to someone that served our country and was willing to make the sacrifices to uphold our freedoms.

"It doesn't matter if you're 10 or 40, you only get on the ice a handful of times — it levels the playing field," he said. "That's the fun part about it. There is no judging. You're not trying to make tryouts. It's about how hockey can raise people's spirits by trying something and being a part of the team."

'Pittsburgh kid'

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he attended suburban Upper St. Clair High School, Ryan Malone became the first Steel City product to skate for the Penguins. He wore uniform No. 12 as a tribute to his father, Greg, who had played for the Penguins from 1976-83 during an 11-year NHL career.

"Having my dad play and be a scout, I think he thought it was so far-fetched that I'd ever make it," Ryan Malone said. "He'd ask, 'Did you have fun? Did you enjoy it?'

"Being around the locker room from a young age when my dad played and when he was in scouting, to see how much fun those guys had in the locker room — the pranks, the practices — I fell in love with the whole aspect of the game. It was my passion."

Ryan Malone played for Pittsburgh from 2003-08 and was part of the Stanley Cup finalist team that lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008. He then spent six seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and one year with the New York Rangers.

Malone was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2003-04 after appearing in 81 games and scoring 22 goals and 43 points.

In 2006-07, he had the good fortune of playing on a line with Sidney Crosby and Mark Recchi. When he scored his first NHL hat trick against the New York Islanders that season, Ryan and Greg Malone became only the second father-son duo in NHL history to net hat tricks for the same team.

Ryan Malone played on the United States' silver-medal winning team in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

'Pinch-me moments'

"It was amazing," Ryan Malone said of his career. "My dad working in the building. Knowing the trainer, as a young kid. Making the team, and sharpening my skates for the first time. It was a surreal experience. To get to play with Mario (Lemieux), to play with (Mark) Recchi and Sid (Crosby), it was all just what's happening, with 'pinch-me moments' along the way."

This latest "moment" will impact the Johnstown Generals, a program that "provides an outlet to active-duty and military veterans through hockey and fellowship for mental and physical health while being committed to community outreach and awareness of military veteran issues."

The Generals hold events at 1st Summit Arena and other venues in the Northeast.

"The Generals are honored and excited to continue to grow our relationship with the Malone Family Foundation, the Johnstown Tomahawks and the Johnstown Warriors and to serve the community and share the joy of ice hockey with as many different communities as we can," said Sean Mullen, vice president and operations officer for the Generals.

The North American Hockey League Tomahawks organization also is eager to team up with the Malones.

"Working with Ryan and his family, along with the Generals and Warriors, has been awesome," said Derek Partsch, director of team operations for the Tomahawks. "Supporting our local hockey community is very important to us — and the Malones fit perfectly into that, with everything they are doing."

Of course, any Johnstown hockey appearance leads to a question about "Slap Shot," the Paul Newman motion picture based on the Johnstown Jets and filmed in the city in 1976, a year before its release.

Ryan Malone said his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning made him appreciate the movie's talk of moving the fictional Charlestown Chiefs to a Florida retirement community.

"Ultimately, it was a great movie," Ryan Malone said. "I felt pretty honored and it was cool for me to really get to know Dave Hanson."

Former Johnstown Jets tough guy Dave Hanson joined real-life brothers/teammates Steve and Jeff Carlson as the movie's Hanson Brothers. The Hansons stole scenes and helped make "Slap Shot" a cult classic whose lines are still recited by players.

Ryan Malone worked with Dave Hanson as part of a successful effort to bring back the Robert Morris University NCAA Division I men's and women's hockey programs in Pittsburgh.

Both programs returned in 2023-24 after previously being discontinued in a controversial 2021 decision.

"We had on social media (a video), Dave (Hanson) comes into the locker room. We made up Team Yinzer," Ryan Malone said. "We were down 700,000 goals. We needed the greatest comeback ever. Dave comes in and gives us the rah rah speech. That was awesome."

A big comeback won't be necessary during the Battle Buddy Clinic, but the Malones will be ready to provide words of inspiration to young and older skaters at the War Memorial.


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