The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

May 7, 2014

Tomahawks refuse to settle

Team proves commitment to winning

JOHNSTOWN — Jason Spence is a fan favorite in Johnstown. He was when he played for the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs and he was as head coach of the city’s junior hockey team, the Johns-town Tomahawks, for its first two years.

It’s not hard to see why. While he’s not originally from Johnstown, he fits right in with the city’s blue-collar work ethic. He’s tough, hard-nosed and gritty – all of the qualities we love in our sports heroes. But he’s also a nice guy off the ice, loves the city and its people. As coach of the Tomahawks, he did a great job of working with the young men – the league is for players 16-21 – both at the rink and in the community. He stood side by side with them at functions all over the region, not only to promote the team but to make the Tomahawks a part of our community.

That’s why it’s so hard to see him let go by the Tomahawks after two seasons. He’s someone that everyone in Johnstown seemed to want to succeed, and we wish him nothing but the best in the future.

But, with all of that being said, we understand the organization’s decision to not sign him to a new contract after his two-year deal expired.

The Tomahawks’ leadership, from majority owner Jim Bouchard to team President Rick Bouchard to General Manager Rick Boyd, has set a high standard. It’s arguably the highest standard in the

24-team league. After all, Johnstown was named the North American Hockey League’s Organization of the Year after its inaugural season. And there’s little doubt in our minds that it ranks up near the top of the league in that category again this season.

The Tomahawks are winners at the gate as well. Johnstown ranked third in the league in attendance this season with a total of 75,421 fans. To put that in some perspective, three teams in the Tomahawks’ North Division couldn’t combine to match that number and adding a fourth would barely top the Johnstown total.

We’ve detailed many times how the Tomahawks are winners off the ice, as they make appearances all over Cambria and Somerset counties, interacting with young and old alike, sharing tips on hockey and learning new skills from the people around our region.

Unfortunately, the one place that the Tomahawks haven’t been as good or better than any other team in the league is on the ice. They lost more than half of their games under Spence, going 55-48-17 in the regular season. Worse yet, they won just one playoff game in two years and lost 13 of their final 15 games this season.

Simply put, the on-ice performance did not live up to the standard that the organization has set for itself. Someone had to be held accountable, and that usually falls on the head coach.

Letting Spence go was a risk, and it will only pay off if the next coach, whether current assistant Mike Letizia is promoted or someone else is brought in, can push the Tomahawks closer to the Robertson Cup than Spence did.

As much as we respect Spence and everything he has done for hockey in our region, we applaud the Tomahawks for essentially saying that mediocrity will not be tolerated by the organization. That’s an admirable trait in a city that has settled for “good enough” for far too long.

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