The Johnstown Tomahawks could be nearing the end of their second season in the North American Hockey League.
A bad break or two – such as the ones that they had in the first two games of their Robertson Cup playoff series with the Port Huron Fighting Falcons last week in Michigan – and the season could come to an end tonight.
We certainly hope that is not the case. The Tomahawks have quickly become a huge part of the Johnstown community. We hear talk all around the region about the junior hockey franchise, its players and its owners. And it’s almost always a glowing review.
Just this week there was a conversation in our newsroom about the Tomahawks and the extra mile that they go to be a part of the community. It seems that a reporter’s grandson was on a local title-winning team. The group of 9- and 10-year-olds were set to celebrate their championship season at Planet Ice on Wednesday night with a special exhibition game against an unknown opponent.
Little did they know that they would be taking on a dozen or so of the Tomahawks. When the Tomahawks, who range in age from 16 to 21, skated out onto the ice against the youngsters, it might as well have been the Pittsburgh Penguins. The young players were simply in awe of the hockey heroes who they have watched play so many times at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
A competitive game, of course, would have been out of the question. The Tomahawks players knew this, but having been similar wide-eyed boys just a few years ago, they seemed to know how big of an impact they could have. They made the game fun for the young players as well as the family members watching from the stands, with one Tomahawk even playfully “dropping the gloves” with a youngster, before carrying him off to the penalty box.
There was no big press release about the event. No invitations for the media to cover it. In all honesty, it wasn’t that much different than what the Tomahawks do on a weekly basis. Team President Rick Bouchard and General Manager Rick Boyd have made a commitment to making sure that the Tomahawks are a part of the community, with players making regular appearances at schools and organizations across the region.
It has paid off, as the region has embraced the team. Johnstown ranked third in the 24-team league in attendance this season, averaging 2,514 fans per game. By contrast, Port Huron averaged just 577 fans per game for the season and brought in only 945 combined for the two playoff games last weekend despite having a large and vocal Johnstown contingent there cheering on the Tomahawks.
We hope the Tomahawks can extend the series tonight and beat the Fighting Falcons again on Saturday night to send the series back to Michigan for a decisive fifth game. But more than that, we hope the people in and around Johnstown continue to get out to the arena and support the team, which was named the NAHL’s Organization of the Year last season and certainly would seem to be in the running again this year.
The players love coming to Johnstown because they know that the game-day atmosphere is great and the organization is top-notch. The fans love the team because the games are affordable, the players are hard-working and accessible. Sounds like a winning combination to us.
Fill the seats
What: Port Huron Fighting Falcons vs. Johnstown Tomahawks in the first round of the NAHL playoffs.
Where: Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
When: 7:30 tonight.