The Johnstown Tomahawks scored the game’s first two goals on Friday night at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The opposition, the West Division’s last-place Fresno Monsters, entered the arena on a 10-game losing streak and possessed only 12 victories this NAHL season.
The Tomahawks were on track to snap a four-game winless string on home ice, right?
Fresno’s players had other ideas.
The Monsters got a pair of goals by Matt Salituro to force overtime.
Fresno outlasted the ’Hawks in the ensuing shootout and handed Johnstown a 3-2 setback.
“We never had it tonight,” Johnstown coach Jason Spence said. “We scored a couple goals early. (Goaltender) Chris Truehl played well. But we never had it. We never played well enough to win.
“We had some scoring chances. We hit two, maybe three posts,” Spence added. “But you can’t give up a two-goal lead. You have to play better than that to win.”
Johnstown is 22-18-11 with 55 points and fourth place in the North.
Fifth-place Port Huron gained a point by beating Janesville on Friday and now has 52 points with nine games to play for each team.
The Tomahawks and Monsters meet again at 7 tonight at the War Memorial.
“We’re on a little bit of a skid. You hit 10 games (losing streak) and you’re on the road as long as we are, there’s really nothing to hold it in for,” Fresno coach Eric Ballard said. “This game was all about just matching intensity. Johnstown is a really big, strong team.
“I think it took 20 minutes for us to understand they’re going to push us around a little bit. We came back and got a couple goals and turned it into a hockey game.”
The Tomahawks seemed poised to take a comfortable lead against the Monsters, whose 12 wins entering the game were tied with Aberdeen for second-lowest in the 24-team league.
Cobi Smith-Mass took a pass from Cody Boyd, made a move in the slot and beat Tomas Sholl 2:01 into the game.
Andrew McDonald scored from just above the crease at 11:02 of the first to give Johnstown a 2-0 advantage.
“We came out hot and after that, I don’t know what it was, but we seemed to miss a few strides and it ended up biting us in the butt when they came back and tied it up,” Smith-Mass said.
Three minutes later, Fresno’s Salituro converted on a power play opportunity to pull the Monsters within a goal after one period.
“We have the ability to come from behind because no one’s been down more than us in the season at 12-28 before tonight’s game,” Ballard said. “The turning point was us just continuing to weather the storm.”
The Tomahawks had several excellent scoring opportunities in the second period despite being outshot 15-8.
Brandon Reinholz hit a post after a breakaway upon his exit from the penalty box. Cody Gylling maneuvered around defenders and made a drop pass to J.B. Baker, whose open shot ended up in Sholl’s outstretched glove. Gylling had another good chance, but once again Sholl made the stop.
“Our whole mentality is to work as hard as we can, and when we do that we create scoring opportunities whether it’s nice plays or grinding them out,” Smith-Mass said. “We seemed to get chances doing both of those things. We definitely had our chances to bury more goals than we did.”
Fresno’s Salituro tied the game via an unassisted goal at 16:08 of the second.
“We just stuck with it and kept a good attitude,” Salituro said. “We knew we’d get our chances and we capitalized.”
Newton Fuller scored in the opening round of the shootout to put Fresno up 1-0. Gylling tied it in the third round. Jacob McDowell netted the game-winner in the fifth round.
“(Tonight) we have to play the same way we did in the first half of the first period all the way through,” Smith-Mass said. “This late in the season we can’t take shifts off in the middle of the game. It’s too important.”
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