BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —
Chris Truehl reached to the top shelf of his locker and tapped the gold hard hat adorned with a Johnstown Tomahawks logo on the front.
“It’s a real hard hat,” said Truehl, the Tomahawks goaltender who stopped 25 of 26 Jamestown shots in Johns-town’s 3-1 victory over the Ironmen on Friday night.
Truehl’s teammates voted him the hardest-working player of the game. The hard hat was his reward.
Of course, there also was the gratitude of 3,023 fans in attendance at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
“The only thing I had on my mind was just to win the game,” Truehl said after he came within 1:27 of earning his first shutout of the NAHL season.
“If it would have happened, it would have been great. It didn’t work out but we still got the win, so it was all right.”
Johnstown inched closer to clinching one of the North Division’s six playoff spots. Unofficially, the Tomahawks’ magic point number is one.
If fourth-place Johnstown (24-19-12, 60 points) wins or loses in overtime during tonight’s final home game of the regular season, the Tomahawks appear to have the edge over Springfield, the team currently tied with Janesville for the sixth spot with 50 points.
Both of those teams lost on Friday night. Springfield, like Johnstown, has five games remaining. Janesville has eight to play.
Fifth-place Port Huron has 52 points with eight games to play.
Tomahawks coach Jason Spence appreciated the math, but said the Tomahawks can eliminate the need for speculation and calculations by staying the course.
“We need to win. We want home ice advantage,” Spence said. “We dictate our destiny. We’re ahead. We just have to stay there.”
The Tomahawks and Ironmen play again at 7 tonight at the War Memorial.
“It’s great that we came together,” Truehl said. “It definitely was a team effort. We wanted to put on a show at home and hopefully we were able to do that.”
Johnstown ended a six-game home losing streak (0-4-2).
“No one really said it, but it was still there,” Truehl said of the home skid. “It’s good to win for the fans.”
Tomahawks defenseman Jeff Bergh netted the only goal through 40 minutes.
Captain Mitch Kontny assisted on Bergh’s eighth of the season 6:21 into the opening period.
Defenseman Ian Spencer made it 2-0 at 4:41 of the third. Zach Wallace and J.B. Baker had assists.
“We only had three lines,” Spence said. “We only had 10 forwards. We rolled them.”
Jamestown’s Ryan Doucet closed the gap to 2-1 and ended Truehl’s shutout bid at 18:33.
“It went off somebody’s back and went in the net,” Spence said. “That happens.
“Truehl was a difference-maker,” Spence added. “He played great. He stayed cool. He played a hell of a game. Our players give a hard hat after every victory. He got it today.”
Johnstown’s Jordan Watt hit the empty net with 29 seconds left to set the final.
“We’ve got to do more of the same – and more,” Spence said of tonight’s rematch. “We have to be more physical and we have to be first on pucks.”