The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 12, 2014

Fighting Falcons win playoff series against Tomahawks

Shawn Curtis

JOHNSTOWN — The third period of Game 3 of the NAHL North Division semifinal served as a quick primer of the Johnstown Tomahawks’ playoff fortunes against top-seeded Port Huron.

Trailing by two goals going into the third, the Tomahawks ramped up the intensity, producing a goal early and a multitude of chances at an equalizer until the game’s final moments when goaltender Max Milosek stopped Jordan Watt’s breakaway try as the Cambria County War Memorial Arena’s horn sounded.

The Fighting Falcons bested the Tomahawks 4-3, ending Johnstown’s season with a three-game postseason sweep in the best-of-5 series.

“I’m really proud of them,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “The community, the character that they bring. They’re the reason why hockey works in Johnstown. You recruit good men, I’m proud of that. We fell short, but we didn’t stop fighting. It’s tough to lose three one-goal games, but we had chances and opportunities and they get passed by ... It’s hard to think about right now, but I already can’t wait until next season.” 

It didn’t take long for Port Huron to match its 2-0 lead in the series on the scoreboard, using goals from Jon Hall (at 6:06) and Latrobe product Noah Batis (8:00). Hall’s goal came as he received a feed in the slot from Austin Romzek before sending a puck past Johnstown starting goaltender Brett Young.

Batis’ tally – a shot from the right faceoff circle – occurred with help from Bryan Yim.

Johnstown connected on its first goal at 10:53 as Brandon Reinholz took advantage of a scrum in front of Milosek during a Tomahawks power-play opportunity, deflecting a puck into the cage. Jordan Watt and Mitch Hall assisted on the goal that kept the furious scoring pace of the first period on track.

At 15:13, Alex Archibald – with assists from Yim and Niko Coffman – ran the Fighting Falcons’ lead back to two goals when he slammed a shot past Young. Just over a minute later, Johnstown replied with Matt Meier finding the net with helpers credited to Shane Bednard and Hall.

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Yim netted the second period’s only goal – Port Huron’s second power-play marker – at 8:41 of the second. Vito Aluia and Batis assisted on what became the Fighting Falcons’ insurance goal.

Young, who stopped 15 shots, kept the lead at two goals before giving up the net to Alex Okicki, who had missed the previous two games and first two periods on Friday due to injury.

“He had been injured and deemed that he wasn’t able to play,” Spence said. “He was talked to and said that being his last year, being a 20-year-old, he said that he would try it and he did.”

 Johnstown’s deflection game pulled it within one a final time as Dakoda Menslage tipped the puck past Milosek.

Bednard, who later had a pair of scoring chances during a short-handed shift with Tyler Basham serving a penalty for high-sticking Yim, was credited with an assist.

With Okicki, who made six stops, on the bench for most of the final 85 seconds, Johnstown’s tries at scoring the game-tying goal were scarce until Watt received a two-line feed just shy of the Fighting Falcons’ blue-line. Watt broke in only to be denied by Milosek, sealing the Fighting Falcons’ victory in the game and the series.

“Some of the best players in the league had breakaways,” Spence said. “Jordan Watt, I think he’s the best shot in our league. Shane Bednard probably has some of the best puck skills I’ve seen at this level ... We had the opportunities, they just slipped away.” 

While the Tomahawks’ season ended with an early-round disappointment, that’s not to say that the team’s future will follow suit according to the Johnstown bench boss.

“Right now it’s tough because you’re still in that mode of feeling terrible (about the loss),” Spence said. “But you have to look toward next year and we’ve done a great job of recruiting. Mike Letizia, my assistant coach, has been great. We have to make sure we pick the guys we have coming back to here and we got a lot of new guys coming in with fantastic attitudes and they’re the best players at their level.

“Johnstown is a place everybody wants to come to.”  

Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at