The Johnstown Tomahawks played some of their best hockey during a nine-game stretch of schedule that rolled through November and the first half of December.
There were eight wins in those nine games, and one reason for the success was the offensive pairing of Andrew McDonald, Connor Wright and Zach Wallace.
That line was broken up for various reasons, but with Johnstown searching for ways to snap a six-game winless streak, the trio took the ice together Sunday afternoon against Soo – the first-place team in the NAHL’s North Division – in front of 1,760 at Cambria County War Memorial Stadium.
The result was a 6-2 Tomahawks’ win and another likely line pairing when Johnstown plays its next game Friday at home against Michigan, which swept a three-game series from the Tomahawks last weekend.
“(Coach Jason Spence) has been switching lines, trying to get something going for us,” Wallace said. “This line was together when we were playing well, and everybody here was fed up with losing.”
The fourth-place Tomahawks (18-12-9, 45 points) hadn’t won since a 2-1 home victory over Kalamazoo on Dec. 30 and they hadn’t scored more than two goals in a game since Dec. 22.
The McDonald-Wright-Wallace line ensured those streaks were halted against Soo (26-10-3, 55 points), losers of two straight after a nine-game win streak. The Eagles played in Jamestown Saturday night.
“This feels good and it started last night. I felt bad because they played hard enough to win. They deserve it,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said of Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Port Huron. “One thing about three games in three days, Zach Wallace is in the gym seven days a week. I’ll bet he’s headed there after this game. Andrew McDonald is the same way. Guys that put in that extra work see results in games like this.”
McDonald scored Johnstown’s first goal on the team’s first shot of the game. Granted, it took 8:20 for the Tomahawks to generate that scoring opportunity against Soo, which showed no early effects of arriving in Johnstown around 1 a.m.
Wallace and Wright set up McDonald’s backhander for a 1-0 lead.
They struck again 1:11 later when Wright scored off assists from Wallace and Cody Bentzel. It was a huge shot of confidence for a team in desperate need of it.
“Obviously, we had a good start getting the puck in the back of the net a couple times,” McDonald said. “This was huge. This was huge, especially against the type of team we just beat. That’s one of the top teams in the league.”
The McDonald-Wright-Wallace line’s production helped provide the Tomahawks with a glimpse of how good they can be.
Wallace finished with three assists and raised his team-best plus/minus to plus 12. McDonald scored two goals to give him 10 in 24 games with Johnstown. Wright added one goal and one assist.
Jaycob McCombs and Mitch Kontny each scored an unassisted goal and Brandon Reinholz scored off an assist from recently acquired Corey Schafer, a Westmont Hilltop graduate. It was Schafer’s first point in his second game with the Tomahawks.
“Playing Soo definitely had a lot to do with how we came out today. It shows how good we can be.” said Wallace. “It’s a good feeling to win after a tough couple weeks.”
Maybe Johnstown just needed to play an elite team.
“My keys to the game were: This is a great test; this is what we need; and be first to the puck in order to prove you’re the better team,” Spence said.