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May 9, 2013

NAHL tabs Tomahawks as its Organization of the Year

JOHNSTOWN — The dust has settled on the debut season of the Johnstown Tomahawks, but the hits keep on coming for the franchise.

The latest came Wednesday when the Tomahawks were honored by the North American Hockey League as its Organization of the Year for the 2012-13 season.

“This is a huge honor,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said Tuesday between making phone calls to Under-18 and high school hockey players in a search for new players. “In our first season, we were hoping this would really succeed. We were hoping the fans would like what they saw. It makes you feel good about yourself and your city.

“This honor is kind of for every one – the players, the coaches, the front office and especially the fans. Nothing that happened this season would have been possible without the overwhelming support we got from the fans.”

Fans flocked to Cambria County War Memorial Arena and it made the Tomahawks one of the top draws in the NAHL. The team’s average attendance was just under 2,600, which ranked fifth in the league.

“Going back to about this time last year, I was talking to people in town and they weren’t sure about the junior game,” Tomahawks Team President Rick Bouchard said. “I knew the rich history of hockey in Johnstown and believed once they came to a game, they would come out. I knew it would work, but for our first year, it far exceeded our expectations.”

Johnstown qualified for the Robertson Cup playoffs, helped three players land NCAA Division I scholarships and recently saw three more – Cody Gylling, Jeff Baker and Cody Boyd – be drafted into the USHL.

Gylling went to the Fargo Force in the sixth round of the USHL Entry Draft Phase II on Tuesday. Baker was selected by the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the 18th round and Boyd, a Johnstown native and son of Tomahawks General Manager Rick Boyd, was taken by the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders in the 26th round.

“That’s another huge notch on our resume,” Spence said. “We had three guys drafted. That helps with our recruiting. That helps with my recruiting. We want players to know we’ll do whatever it takes to get them to college or to help them move on.”

The Tomahawks did plenty to help the community as well.

The Johnstown Tomahawks Foundation donated and assisted with donations exceeding $25,000 during the inaugural season. Mario Lemieux dropped the ceremonial first puck at Johnstown’s first home game. The Stanley Cup made an appearance with Penguins players Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz. There was a Jack Ham Bobblehead Night. The Hanson Brothers returned and helped old-school hockey fans reconnect with the past.

Those events along with winning hockey led to seven sellouts. It also provides the organization a desire to improve on its initial success.

The team’s first tryouts will be held May 17 in Michigan and a summer hockey school takes place July 29-Aug. 2 at Planet Ice.

“Like every new startup company, we made a few mistakes, but we move on from those and are planning to knock it out of the park next year,’ Bouchard said. “There’s more to come believe me. I wouldn’t wait for season tickets.”

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