Johnstown’s original four high school hockey teams will reunite on the ice for the first time in years during the inaugural Tomahawks Cup event at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The NAHL’s Johnstown Tomahawks will host the two-day tournament at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Sunday and Monday. The field includes scholastic varsity teams from Bishop McCort, Greater Johnstown, Richland and Westmont Hilltop.
“It’s the four original teams,” said Westmont Hilltop coach Art McQuillan. “I really think there is going to be a lot of interest in the community.”
Westmont was the area’s first high school hockey program beginning in 1980-81. Johnstown, McCort and Richland followed, respectively, during the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
“I think this renews local rivalries,” Johnstown coach Sean McTighe said. “Obviously between Westmont and McCort in the other league, and us and Richland in the Laurel Mountain League, we see each other. This gives us an opportunity to play some teams we haven't played much or even played in years. It will generate interest in the community. It’s a win-win.”
Bishop McCort and Westmont Hilltop continue to play in the PIHL Class A, competing against mostly Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh-area squads.
Several years ago, many of the other local programs left the PIHL and joined the Laurel Mountain Hockey League, which has teams in the region and Central Pennsylvania. Richland and Johnstown joined the LMHL, with the Trojans winning the 2012 league title and Richland edging Johnstown in overtime for the 2013 crown.
“We drew Richland the first round and we haven’t played them probably since they entered the Laurel Mountain League,” McQuillan said. “We know they’re going to come ready to play. It’s a great thing the Tomahawks are doing for interscholastic hockey in our area. They’ve been very supportive of youth hockey, so I know they’re going to put on a first-class tournament.”
Sunday’s games match city teams Bishop McCort and Johnstown at 5 p.m., with Richland and Westmont to follow at 7 p.m. The consolation game will be at 5:30 on Monday, with the championship set for 7:30 p.m.
“We look forward to hosting these four teams, which have each added to the rich hockey tradition in this area,” Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard said in a statement. “We are expecting exciting and hard-fought games as these teams battle to be the inaugural Tomahawks Cup champions.”
The Tomahawks have been community oriented throughout their first two junior hockey seasons in Johnstown. The team interacts with and promotes area youth hockey and high school hockey.
“The tomahawks have been a big boost to everyone here,” McTighe said. “They’ve been very actively involved. Their players are in the community. They’ve been around the hockey programs. Players of all ages look up to them. It’s cool.”
Richland coach J.J. Vasilko said the matchups should rekindle some old memories for long-time high school fans in the area.
“Growing up as a player, those were our biggest rivals,” Vasilko said of Johnstown, McCort and Westmont. “It will be fun to play those guys again. Hopefully it’s something that we’ll be able to do for a long time.”
The games won’t count in the respective league standings, but that shouldn’t diminish the tournament’s significance.
“The players are really excited. They play travel hockey with a lot of these kids, especially on the Westmont side,” Vasilko said. “They’re excited to be able to play them again. We have competitive teams in our league and we want to show we’re able to compete on the local landscape.
“I think the turnout is going to be there from students no matter what happens,” Vasilko added. “If we play Westmont it’s going to get some interest. Any time you’re playing McCort, it’s a rivalry. Johnstown and us has been a big rivalry since we joined the Laurel Mountain League. I think any matchup will draw a crowd.”
Bishop McCort coach John Bradley brings a different perspective to the tournament. Bradley is a former Boston University Terriers goaltender who participated in Boston’s legendary Beanpot Tournament that includes Boston University, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern.
“We wanted to get the four schools involved just like they do in Boston with BU, BC, Northeastern and Harvard and have bragging rights in the town,” Bradley said of an idea that had been pondered for several years before becoming a reality. “It was nice that the Tomahawks stepped up. I think it will be great for the kids.
“They play in two different leagues, though a lot of them play travel hockey with each other,” he added. “There will certainly be bragging rights for one of the teams. It will be good for the community to get the local teams to play each other at the War Memorial.”
A former Johnstown Chiefs goaltender and veteran McCort coach, Bradley envisions the Tomahawks Cup evolving into a much anticipated social event similar to the Tomahawks New Year’s Eve game.
“When I was recruited I went to a Beanpot game,” Bradley said. “The games were the first two Mondays in February. They alternated on who you played, and there was the consolation game and championship game. Most people would say it was a social event that evolved into a hockey game.
“Everyone wanted to be there. Always the first two Mondays in February people got together and it just so happened that there were two hockey games on each Monday.
“To this day, everybody that ever played in it, you had bragging rights in the city if you were to win that Beanpot. The city was yours.”
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for youths, and includes both games on that night. The Tomahawks will provide promotions and music to give the tournament a NAHL game-night feel.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.