The Johnstown Tomahawks’ impact might be felt for years to come thanks to the NAHL Tier II Junior A team’s work with youth and high school hockey programs throughout the region.
In their second year at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, the Tomahawks have done a solid job of winning over fans with a hard-working, fast-paced brand of hockey. The team’s ownership group and front office also have lived up to a promise made in the weeks and months leading up to the Tomahawks’ official move to Johnstown.
The Tomahawks’ lease agreement included a commitment by the team to invest $100,000 in marketing locally, thus adding to the area’s economy.
Another vow the Tomahawks have upheld should have both intangible and tangible results.
“We promised when we bought the team and brought it to Johnstown our goal was to promote and improve youth hockey,” said Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard. “We had a Tomahawks camp last summer. We’re going to have another one this year.
“I know the local rinks are seeing an increase in numbers. We’re getting quite a few more tournaments in the War Memorial. As the Tomahawks grow, so will youth hockey. That was the goal when we bought the team.”
Earlier this month, the first Tomahawks Cup Tournament, hosted by the team, brought four city scholastic teams together as Greater Johnstown, Bishop McCort, Richland and eventual champion Westmont Hilltop played in the two-day event.
Tomahawks players interact with their fans, many of whom are youngsters, after games and during community events. The players, who range in age from 17 to 20, visit area schools and take part in parades, summer community days and holiday events.
“The Tomahawks organization has a long-term vision for youth and interscholastic hockey in our area,” Westmont Hilltop High School coach Art McQuillan said. “In their second year of existence they’ve organized the Tomahawks Cup Tournament, and their players are readily available and visible with the youth organizations in town.”
The more excited young players get about the Tomahawks, the more likely interest in hockey grows in the region. That translates into more youth hockey players, who later become high school players. The War Memorial, Planet Ice in Richland Township and the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg all stand to benefit.
“The next step for the Tomahawks is to go from an impact to the region as far as tourism (over a 28-game home schedule) to the impact to the region as far as growing youth hockey,” said War Memorial General Manager Tom Grenell.
“The sport can benefit tenfold and move from a 28-game tourism product to a nine-month impact product to where we have youth market hockey evolving and growing.”
The Tomahawks players’ enthusiasm and outgoing demeanors only reinforce Grenell’s line of thinking.
“The great thing about these young players is the kids all are good kids,” Grenell said. “I haven’t had one bad episode with any of their players in 18 months.”
Grenell applauded the team’s approach on and off the ice. He credited the organization from the owners to the staff to the players.
“The Tomahawks’ concept and brand has become more like the Steelers,” Grenell said. “That’s where the trend will grow. It’s a strong brand. I think the Tomahawks are stealing a page from the Steelers’ playbook and saying, ‘This is how we want to be represented in the region.’
“I think it’s the next evolutionary step,” he added. “We will grow the business (and) the attendance, and the things that come along with that will have a strong impact.”
Bouchard meets and greets fans at every home game. He listens to suggestions and addresses any concerns or complaints.
He likes what he’s seen from the younger generation.
“Just watching the crowds as I do each weekend when we play at home, you can see the increase in the number of little girls and boys and high school kids has grown tremendously,” Bouchard said.
“We just had the first Tomahawks Cup with the four local high schools. That was a lot of fun. We’re going to keep our players in front with the youngsters as much as possible. I think in the whole area hockey is getting stronger from youth hockey all the way through high school. Hopefully it will develop into a feeder program for the Tomahawks.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.