By MIKE MASTOVICH
The Johnstown Chiefs’ welcome home party won’t be fun and games.
The Chiefs return from a seven-game road trip that included six outings in Nevada and California only to face one of the top teams in the ECHL tonight at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The Reading Royals are tied for first place in the North Division with 25 points. Reading is 12-3-1 overall and 8-2-0 in the past 10 games.
The Royals snatched two league awards on Thursday, as goaltender Cody Rudkowsky (6-1-0, 1.72, .943 last month) was named Saver of the Month and forward Greg Hogeboom (3-12-15, 11 games) was tabbed Rookie of the Month for November.
“Reading and Las Vegas are probably the best teams we’ve seen so far,” said coach Frank Anzalone, whose Chiefs went 3-2-2 on the road trip and are 6-9-6 overall. “They’re three lines deep. They have guys that can check and guys that can score.”
Reading had a seven-game winning streak snapped by Dayton on Dec. 2, but rebounded with a 5-3 win over Toledo.
The Chiefs (18 points) have overcome a dismal 0-6-4 start by going 6-3-2 in the past 11 games and only are three points behind fourth-place Toledo (21), four back of third-place Trenton (22) and seven from first-place Wheeling (25) and Reading.
Johnstown’s only other meeting with Reading was a 3-2 loss in the home opener on Oct. 22.
“I thought we played very well against Reading, but we just didn’t have enough to get it done,” Anzalone said. “We made a really bad turnover late in that game. It will be a good challenge for us, a good test to see where we’re at.”
The Chiefs lineup has been rattled by injuries, but Anazlone said some players might return.
“We might have Paul Caponigri back. We’re not sure,” the coach said. “He skated and said his knee felt better. I don’t think we’re going to see Mike Egener or Jason Spence.”
Spence, the Chiefs’ captain, has been sidelined by a nagging ankle injury. He resumed skating this week and is almost ready.
“My ankle feels really, really good. I skated the last three days,” Spence said. “I think it’s good enough to play this weekend. But I came back twice already this year too early. The trainer and coach think that I only had one practice with the team and they want me to skate through the weekend where I can get some extra skating in to see if it’s going to hold up.”
Forward Steve Cygan had difficulty breathing after being hit in the throat during a Sunday game at San Diego. The 5-foot, 6-inch speedster returned Tuesday at Las Vegas and took another nasty hit.
“Cygan, we were really concerned with the problem with the neck on Sunday. He couldn’t breathe,” Anzalone said. “They took him to the hospital and said he was fine. Then he got hurt again on Tuesday. Steve is such a competitor. He doesn’t stay away from anything. These big guys are moving forward to him and he’s kind of in the way at a short range. But it’s a credit to Steve. He’s very persistent.”
Notes: The Chiefs in conjunction with Cool 101.5 FM and the United States Marine Corps will hold the annual Toys for Tots Toy Toss during Saturday’s home game against Dayton. Fans are encouraged to bring a new stuffed toy to the game to be tossed on the ice when the Chiefs score their first goal. In the past five seasons, Johnstown fans have tossed more than 10,000 toys onto the ice.
Mike Mastovich can be reached at 532-5083 or firstname.lastname@example.org.