The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 23, 2014

Eagles avoid sweep, nip Tomahawks

Paul Buriak

JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Tomahawks battled back from a three-goal deficit in Sunday afternoon’s final regular-season home game against Soo, but a late third-period score by the Eagles sent the Tomahawks to a disappointing 4-3 loss.

Soo (24-27-7) erupted for three unanswered goals in a six-minute span to open the second period before the Tomahawks (28-25-5) pulled within one heading into the third and subsequently tied it at 5:53 of the final period on a blast from inside the right circle by Matt Meier.

The contest remained knotted until Soo’s Bradley Mueller fired a shot past Johnstown’s Brett Young from just inside the blue line at 18:37 for what proved to be the game-winner.

Despite the defeat, Johnstown took two of three from the Eagles in the weekend series to remain in a prime position to capture a NAHL playoff berth with two regular-season games remaining at Janesville. With the top four finishers in the North Division advancing to the postseason, the Tomahawks remained in fourth place, one point back of Janesville and three points ahead of fifth-place Springfield.

“We still control our own destiny,” said Johnstown coach Jason Spence. “But this one was a heartbreaker that we let slip away.

“We have a good team but we need to play 60 minutes.”

The game was scoreless after one, during which the Tomahawks were able to kill off a four-minute Soo power play. Chase Matson then opened the scoring for the Eagles at 2:24 of the second, and less than two minutes later Denver Pierce took a pass from Brad Pung to make it 2-0.

After Johnstown’s Joe Drabin went to the box for interference at 5:39, it took just 21 seconds for Soo to capitalize as Michael Sabatini converted a power-play goal.

“We came out flat in the second period,” Spence said. “That was a tough stretch.”

The Johnstown rally began when it took the Tomahawks less than 10 seconds into a Pung penalty to notch a power-play goal at the 8:04 mark.

Brandon Reinholz deflected in a shot attempt by Shane Cuckovich, with Dakoda Menslage also picking up an assist on the play.

The Tomahawks’ power play struck again later in the period when Trevor Recktenwald buried his own rebound past Nathan Klebe to make it 3-2 at 15:39 of the period. Menslage tallied his second assist of the day, and Tyler Basham also added a helper.

Meier brought the large crowd of 3,721 to its feet with his tying goal in the third, which was assisted by Mitch Hall and Casey Linkenheld.

“There was no lack of effort out there,” Spence said. “We put ourselves in a position to win.”

Unfortunately for the Tomahawks, that didn’t happen thanks to Mueller’s late-game heroics and Klebe turning away eight of nine Johnstown third-period shots.

Soo outshot Johnstown 39-29, and the Eagles were 1-7 on the power play compared to Johnstown’s 2-6.

With a playoff berth within his squad’s grasp, Spence will be focused on getting the Tomahawks ready for the crucial final road trip to Janesville.

“We are going to prepare for them. They are a team we know very well,” Spence said. “We are going to work hard and go in there with something to prove.”