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July 25, 2013

From Russia to Prospect, ’Hawks have varied group

JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Tomahawks main camp opened Thursday night with 80 players, some of whom traveled across the globe to be at Planet Ice in Richland Township, and some of whom simply needed to drive across town.

Thirteen players are back in Johnstown after suiting up with the Tomahawks last season while one will get his chance with the North American Hockey League team after playing for the Johnstown Jets last season.

Tre Pridgen will be a senior at Greater Johnstown High School and, he hopes, a defenseman for the Tomahawks.

“It would be great to be in my hometown,” said Pridgen, who could join Cody Boyd and Corey Schafer as local players to play for the second-year franchise. “My family could come see me. It would be fun.”

Schafer, who was acquired in a midseason trade, is in camp with Johnstown but Boyd has since moved on to the British Columbia Hockey League.

The players returning to Johnstown after playing for the Tomahawks last season are forwards J.B. Baker, Joe Bender, Jaycob McCombs, Brandon Reinholz, Zach Wallace, Jordan Watt and Schafer; defensemen Cody Bentzel, Jake Fairchild, Mitch Hall, Jesse Kessler and Dakoda Menslage; and goalie Colin Brennan.

Pridgen got to see them in action plenty of times last season as he worked at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.

“I knew I could skate with them,” he said. “Now is my chance to go out and show what I’ve got.”

Pridgen, like the other newcomers, earned an invitation to main camp after impressing the Tomahawks staff at one of three camps earlier this summer. Pridgen went to the Pittsburgh camp and did well enough to earn a shot at making the team.

“I did pretty good, played hard and made it to main camp,” he said. “I’m halfway there.”

Pridgen, who is from Prospect and has been skating since he was 2 years old, said his family and the city’s previous hockey team had a lot to do with him getting into the sport.

“My aunt, she was a Johnstown Chiefs season-ticket holder for a while,” he said. “She went to all the games. My brother started going. When he stopped, I started going. I loved the sport, loved the game, loved the physicality, the speed of it.”

The 17-year-old knows that he can be an inspiration to his former Johnstown Jets travel hockey teammates.

“It gives a lot of kids more ability to see what they have and just go to a tryout and see how they do,” he said. “If they don’t make it, they can try the next year. There’s always a fallback plan if you don’t.”

While Pridgen is lucky enough to have an organization in his backyard, there are others who have traveled thousands of miles for this opportunity. One of those is Ilya Ignatenko, an 18-year-old from Russia who is excited to try out for the Tomahawks.

The forward, who played for Batyr Neftekamsk in the Molodezhnaya Hockey League last season, found out about the Tomahawks from his mother, Elena Benefr. She is originally from Russia but moved to Reading five years ago. She kept her eye on the Tomahawks last season from across the state and was impressed by the team.

“I knew that this organization was organization of the year,” she said, referring to the award bestowed upon the Tomahawks by the NAHL. 

“I kept looking for Tier II, high level of hockey for my kids to play.”

Thursday’s team meeting, which included comments from coach Jason Spence, General Manager Rick Boyd and President Rick Bouchard as well as a presentation about the Tomahawks’ inaugural season, moved Ignatenko.

“He likes this organization very much and is very impressed after this meeting,” said Benefr, who acted as an interpretor for her son.

Ignatenko can speak some English, but admitted he is a bit worried about the language barrier.

“He thinks he will improve his language skills,” his mother said.

Ignatenko expects the game to be a bit different in the United States, but said he won’t be sure exactly how until he hits the ice. He does have an idea of what he’ll have to do to make the team.

“He thinks that he needs to play at 110 percent here to be the best player, to make a lot of goals, a lot of shifts, a lot of assists,” his mother said after Ignatenko answered in Russian. “He thinks that he has to be a (well-rounded) player.”

The Tomahawks will practice today and Saturday before making their initial cuts. There will be another round of cuts after Sunday’s all-star game, which is open to the public and begins at 11 a.m. at Planet Ice.

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