The Johnstown Tomahawks played winning hockey on the road throughout the 2012-13 NAHL season, but that fact did little to quell the team’s collective apprehension as it headed into Game 2 of the North Division play-in series Friday night at Port Huron.
“We were a little worried after the first game. It wasn’t an easy feeling,” Tomahawks goalie Chris Truehl said. “But we came out to play. Now, we’re feeling pretty confident.”
The Tomahawks were blanked, 3-0, by the Fighting Falcons in Game 1 before they rebounded to take the second game, 2-0.
Friday night’s victory forced a third, and deciding, Game 3 at today at Cambria County War Memorial Arena. The winner advances to the North Division semifinals against Sault Ste. Marie.
“The first game, we were a little too nervous. We were holding our sticks too tight,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “Maybe we should have relaxed more in Game 1, but we weren’t too sharp from top to bottom.”
That can’t be said for Johnstown’s performance in Game 2.
“We created more opportunities. We shot the puck more. We attacked them more,” Spence added. “We were getting second and third opportunities at the net. In the first game, we were getting one opportunity.”
Johnstown created 25 shots on goal. Port Huron finished with 33 shots, but 18 of those came during a hectic first period.
In that first period, Truehl, who will play for the Air Force Academy next season, stood tall as he did throughout the latter portion of the regular season.
Truehl’s shutout was his second in seven days.
“I can’t take all the credit. The team has played better and better as the season’s gone on,” Truehl said. “I’ve felt confident. We’ve felt confident. We’ve been playing well. The guys have won a lot more faceoffs in the defensive zone. Things like that have simplified the game for me.”
Spence was also quick to offer credit across the board for Johnstown’s defensive work in Game 2.
“It was very good,” he said. “The defensemen were very good, but our defensive mindset and our strategy lends itself to the whole team. Our forwards do just as much work as the defensemen. It’s a team defense.”
Johnstown didn’t score in Game 1 against Port Huron, which won six of eight regular-season games against the Tomahawks.
In Game 2, the offense failed to generate a goal until the second period when Jeff Bergh tallied the first in the franchise’s postseason history unassisted at the 6:45 mark. Cobi Smith-Mass followed 55 seconds later off assists from Brandon Reinholz and Connor Wright.
“We played well in Game 1, but we didn’t get the bounces. We willed the bounces to come our way in Game 2,” Truehl said. “We were outshot in the first period, but we knew we had to win. It was must-win. We couldn’t let the excuses of bounces not going our way end our season.”
The bounces and the results haven’t gone Johnstown’s way playing in front of large crowds at home.
In their inaugural season, the Tomahawks, who finished fifth in the North Division, won 28 games this season, including 15 on the road. The team caught the imagination of fans and finished fifth in the NAHL in attendance. In front of sellout crowds, however, Johnstown went 0-7 this season.
It’s a fact that does little to temper the enthusiasm for today’s game.
“It’s been great knowing that people have supported us all year,” Spence said. “This is our first playoff game on our home ice. We’re excited and happy that a lot of people will be coming out to support us.”