BY MIKE MASTOVICH
Jason Spence is glad to be back on home ice tonight as his Johnstown Tomahawks continue a stretch that will have the NAHL team play at Cambria County War Memorial Arena only four times in 82 days.
Tomahawks fans will have an opportunity to see a lot of Spence during the 7:30 p.m. game against the Michigan Warriors.
In fact, 1,500 Jason Spence bobbleheads will be given away as a promotion recognizing the second-year Tomahawks coach, who also was a former Johnstown Chiefs fan favorite as a tough forward.
“It’s quite an honor,” said Spence, whose team brings a 22-17-2 record and is second in the North Division with 46 points. “At first I was kind of reserved about it. My friends, some of them think it’s funny that I’d have a bobblehead. Others said it’s cool and it’s an honor.”
While more frequent in recent years, bobblehead promotions are a somewhat rare occurrence in Johnstown.
The former ECHL Chiefs only had one bobblehead promotion in 22 seasons – defenseman Jeff Sullivan in March 2004. The Wheeling Nailers had a Dave Hanson mini-bobblehead giveaway honoring the former Johnstown Jets enforcer and “Slap Shot” Hanson brother during a December 2010 game played in Johnstown. Last season, the Tomahawks honored Steelers four-time Super Bowl winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jack Ham with a bobblehead giveaway on Jan. 31. Johnstown’s Ham is a minority owner of the Tomahawks.
“We’ve had a lot of calls and a lot of fans just telling us they were really interested in the bobblehead, and they are coming into this game specifically for the bobblehead,” said Chad Mearns, the Tomahawks director of marketing and communications. “The players got a big kick out of it when the bobbleheads came in.”
The Tomahawks’ off-ice team is putting on its figurative game face for the promotion.
“We anticipate a strong and enthusiastic demand for the bobbleheads,” Mearns said. “We’re only giving out 1,500 so we’re taking every measure possible to have those distributed in the most fair and orderly way as possible.”
Full season ticket holders are guaranteed to receive the bobblehead at the game, Mearns said.
The bobblehead features a likeness of Spence wearing his black Tomahawks practice attire, with black gloves. He holds a stick, and a whistle is wrapped around the coach’s neck. The Tomahawks’ logo is on his jacket.
“It’s a pretty close likeness,” Spence said.
Spence chuckled while explaining that the photograph he submitted to the company that produced the bobblehead was shot after he and his wife, Marcey, returned from a Caribbean vacation.
“When I got the pictures taken we had just got back from Jamaica,” Spence said. “I don’t get out to see the sun a whole lot. But in those pictures I was pretty tan in all of them, and the bobblehead reflects that too.”
Of course, the Tomahawks have important business on the ice, too.
Johnstown is 8-7 in its past 15 games after splitting a pair at Port Huron last weekend. The two-game set ended with a lopsided 5-0 loss to the Fighting Falcons.
“It’s super important to get back home,” said Tomahawks defenseman Mitch Hall, who ranks third on the team with 29 points, including four goals “It’s nice to get back in front of our fans. They’re always helping us out when things are tough. They always have our back. Hopefully we can put on a few good games for them.
“Our chemistry is great. We’re battling through a few injuries. This week we’re going to definitely turn it around.”
Third-place Michigan is 18-12-8, with 44 points, only two behind Johnstown.
The Tomahawks beat the Warriors twice when the teams met during the most recent homestand on Dec. 30 (3-2 in a shootout) and New Year’s Eve (4-1).
“We’ve had a great week of practice. We’ve been working on chemistry,” Spence said. “I’m really happy with what we’ve got right now.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.