By MIKE KOVAK
The ability of the Johnstown Tomahawks to start quickly has players and coaches thinking something special is starting to happen.
For the second consecutive game, forward Mitch Kontny scored on the game’s opening shift and fueled Johnstown’s 4-1 victory over the Janesville Jets Sunday night in front of 1,100 at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
It’s a safe assumption that Kontny will play on the first line for the foreseeable future.
“It’s big. It gets everyone right into the game,” said Kontny, who added a second goal in the third period. “Scoring like that, you get the momentum right away.”
Johnstown (4-3-3), which has won four of its past six, certainly seized the momentum following the Kontny goal as it peppered goalie Austin Priebe and the Janesville defense with flurries of shots.
Priebe withstood constant pressure from the Tomahawks, who took a game’s worth of shots in the first period alone. Priebe made 17 saves in the first, many on point-blank shots or wide-open chances, as Johnstown used its superior speed and quick passing to its advantage. Among Priebe’s best work in the first period was a save on a heavy slapshot from Kristaps Bazevics at the 16:49 mark and, two minutes later, a series of stops as Brandon Brossoit and Kontny took a few attempts in front of the net.
But, the damage had been inflicted with Kontny’s game-opening shot as it validated a point driven home by Tomahawks coach Jason Spence.
“Coach is always preaching for a fast start and we’ve just happened to get it in the last two games,” Kontny said. “The last few games, we’ve been coming out and hitting teams on breaks right away. It’s been a big success for us.”
And a positive sign moving forward as Johnstown prepares for a three-game road trip starting Friday against North Division opponents the Soo Eagles and concluding Sunday against the Michigan Warriors.
“We’re shooting the puck, but we can still put more pucks on net. There were a lot of missed shots out there,” Spence said. “Overall, I’m really proud of all of them. They stepped up today and this ended up being a huge weekend for our team.”
Johnstown carried that momentum from the opening shot and first period into the second.
Kontny opened the second with a good look against Priebe, who came up with another tough save, and Johnstown hammered the defense of Janesville (4-4-2) with 18 more shots. The Tomahawks finished with a 46-17 advantage in shots on goal.
Things were so one-sided that Tomahawks goalie Bodhi Engum didn’t face a shot in the second period until the 9:10 mark. The game might as well have been played on tilted ice.
“Right now, we’re playing our best hockey,” Spence said. “We’re still not satisfied. We have to keep going as a team.”
As many shots as Johnstown fired at Janesville, however, the Tomahawks couldn’t build their lead until the 15:19 mark of the second, when Jordan Watt scored on a wraparound off a Jesse Kessler assist. Kessler and Brossoit each had two assists.
Not wanting any momentum to dissipate, the Tomahawks came out swinging in the third as well. Kessler and David Becker fought before the opening faceoff.
“When (Becker) stepped in, he said he wanted to fight (Cody) Gylling. Well, Gylling’s a goal scorer, so I’m not going to let him fight,” Kessler said. “Big hits, fights, goals, it’s all the same. They all give you momentum.”
After Janesville cut Johnstown’s lead to 2-1 following a Brett Bauza power-play goal, Kontny and Zack Wallace capped the scoring for the Tomahawks.
“The first couple games, we were struggling to get shots. We were trying to get to cute with the puck,” Kontny said. “Now, we don’t care how ugly it is, as long as it’s a goal and we win, that’s what matters.”