When the fog lifted at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Saturday night, the Johnstown Tomahawks lost their NAHL home opener to the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, 3-1.
The Tomahawks put forth a spirited and mostly solid effort in a game that was delayed 41 minutes after a dazzling pyrotechnics display created so much smoke that a foggy haze filled the arena.
“I told the guys to come in and relax,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “Their job is to play hockey. If the puck drop is delayed 40 minutes, they’ve got to wait 40 minutes longer to do what they love to do.”
A crowd of 3,025 loved their Tomahawks from the outset of Season II.
Attendance at the pregame HockeyFest was strong, and the fans were spirited throughout the introductions, fireworks and flaming blue lines.
Former Penguins Stanley Cup winner Bill Guerin dropped the ceremonial first puck, and Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard praised “the best fans in junior hockey.”
The Hawks were eager to get started, but then had to pull back.
“It was frustrating after about five minutes,” said Tomahawks forward Zach Wallace, who netted the home team’s lone goal. “We just wanted to get the game going.”
Despite the delay and a two-goal loss padded by a Port Huron empty-net goal with 7 seconds left, Wallace saw some positives.
“It was a fun environement to play in,” the second-year Tomahawk said.
“It was a blast. Too bad we didn’t win for them.”
The teams traded first-period goals. Port Huron’s Austin Romzek scored against goaltender Alex Okicki at 7:32.
Only 1:11 later, Johnstown’s Wallace knocked in a rebound past Max Milosek to tie it.
“(Tyler) Basham held it in at the blue line and fired it at the net,” Wallace said. “(Jaycob McCombs) Combs gloved it down and threw it on net. It ended up right on my tape. I didn’t have to do much.”
The Tomahawks outshot the Fighting Falcons 23-22.
“We might have outshot them, but we didn’t get enough shots in the Grade A areas,” Spence said.
Port Huron's Conner Enciso netted the eventual game-winner at 13:01 of the second, and Mitch Maloney added an empty netter as the Hawks pressured with the goalie pulled in the final minute.
Port Huron had seven power-play opportunities, but failed to score. Johnstown had only two man-advantages and didn’t score.
“I think we definitely have a great team,” Spence said. “But we looked a little hesitant. When we played physical we really made things happen.
“The first goal was textbook, shot, bang, rebound. We were working well in their zone.”
The teams will meet again at 3 p.m. today at the War Memorial.
“We have to play a full 60 minutes,” Wallace said.