No offense hockey fans, but the Johnstown Tomahawks aren’t planning to play a home game in front of a potentially sold-out, sure-to-be-raucous crowd Sunday afternoon at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The goal for these Tomahawks, who qualified for the NAHL playoffs in their inaugural season in the Flood City, is to win two games at Port Huron (Mich.) starting tonight and advance in the best-of-3 North Division play-in series.
The first team to two wins advances to the North Division semifinals. Port Huron finished fourth in the division. Johnstown finished fifth.
“It’s definitely a goal to take the first two games and get into the next round,” said Tomahawks captain Mitch Kontny. “If we do get back home, at least we know we’ll be playing in front of our fans in the deciding game, but we want to take care of business at Port Huron.”
Game 1 starts at 7 p.m. with the second game of the series scheduled for Friday night. Game 3, if necessary, would be in Johnstown at 3 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s very exciting to be where we’re at in our first year,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said as the team bus traveled toward Michigan on Wednesday. “We have a plan, and our plan doesn’t have it ending any time soon.”
Executing the plan against Port Huron (32-24-4) won’t be easy for Johnstown (27-21-12), which posted a solid 14-10-6 road record during the regular season.
The Fighting Falcons won six of eight meetings during the regular season.
“They’re a similar team to us. They use their speed and play physical,” said Kontny, whose 21 goals led the franchise. “We had a lot of difficulty against them, and we can’t get caught up playing their game.”
Part of Port Huron’s game is taking advantage of even the slightest mistakes.
“They were opportunistic,” Spence said. “We played a lot of close games. At the same time, there were chances we didn’t cash in on. We’ve got to find a way to get under their skin.”
If Johnstown plays the way it did during the final two weeks of the regular season, it should get to Port Huron.
The Tomahawks went 3-1 during the final two weeks and outscored opponents 11-5 during that stretch. They’re also healthy. Kontny is back after missing one game with a knee injury as is Casey Nelson, who was out with a shoulder injury.
“We’re ready to go,” Spence said. “We’re healthy. We’re playoff-ready.”
That includes primary goaltender Chris Truehl.
The 6-foot-3 Truehl sports a goals-against average of 2.33 and a .923 save percentage in 38 games (32 starts). His 17 wins lead the Tomahawks.
“I couldn’t be more happy with our goaltending, our defense and our forwards though we’d like to be scoring more goals,” Spence said. “We’ve been playing really good hockey of late, playing it the right way.”
And playoff hockey means the playoff beards.
The Tomahawks are growing them, and players have taken things another step. They’ve died their hair blonde in a show of team unity.
“It was something fun to do before the playoffs and we hope it transfers to the ice,” Kontny said. “I’d say Andrew McDonald probably looks the best out of all of us because his hair is normally blonde anyway.”