The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 16, 2013

One Wild weekend at War Memorial

Shawn Curtis
scurtis@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — You wouldn’t think of teams separated by almost 2,500 miles of highway as intense rivals. In the case of the Wenatchee Wild and Johnstown Tomahawks, this weekend’s series served as a reunion of sorts.

Wenatchee secured the weekend sweep with a 3-2 win over the Tomahawks, a former West Division rival of the Wild before the franchise relocated from Palmer, Alaska to Johnstown last summer.

The Wild eliminated the then-Alaska Avalanche from the 2012 NAHL postseason. It was not lost on some of the holdovers from the Alaska squad.

“We have returnees from last year in Alaska and we have a good rivalry with (Wenatchee),” Tomahawks forward Jordan Watt said. “We lost to them in the playoffs last season, unfortunately.”

The Tomahawks racked up 53 penalty minutes with a pair of ejections and three fighting majors while the Wild lost one player to a game misconduct and served two fighting majors.

The physical play, which led to a smattering of minor penalties, encouraged Johnstown coach Jason Spence, despite the loss.

“A lot of the physical, hard-working penalties, those are the ones that you want to kill,” Spence said. “Because the players are working so hard and finishing their checks and are playing with emotion. When those penalties happen, the players on the bench want to kill that penalty even harder because it was a hard-working penalty.” 

It also energized the sellout crowd of 3,725 fans (and 84 dogs in the building for Pucks and Paws Night).

“I loved the announcement of the sellout with the people and the dogs, that was awesome,” Wenatchee coach Bliss Littler noted. “What a great environment to play in. (Johnstown) could end up being a destination. Kids are going to want to play here.” 

The Wild (35-7-4) held off early pushes from Johnstown through the first period as the Tomahawks (22-18-10) peppered goaltender Robert Nichols. Momentum shifted to the Wild as Cody Boyd racked up an instigator penalty and game misconduct along with a fighting major late in the first. The five-minute power-play allowed the Wild to break through with the game’s first goal just 48 seconds into the second period on Max McHugh’s corner shot past Colin Brennan.

“The big key was the power play we got at the end of the first,” Littler said. “We didn’t score on it (then), but (Johnstown) had some really good chances, put us on our heels a bit with their forecheck and that penalty made them back off a bit and kill it.” 

Watt, who was serving the penalty for Boyd, equalized with a jailbreak goal as Mitch Hall lobbed a puck to Watt at the Wenatchee blue-line. Watt then drove to the net before beating Nichols for his 16th.

“I just came out of the box, Hallsy picked his head up,” Watt said. “He just threw it up to me and I went down on the breakaway.” 

The Wild reclaimed the lead at 16:34 of the second when Joe Sullivan beat Brennan. Chris Kerr was credited with the assist.

Trevor Stewart, who assisted on the McHugh goal, converted a defensive-zone turnover into a 3-1 Wenatchee lead 4:35 into the third.

With the ink still drying on the scoresheet from a holding penalty called on Wenatchee’s Chris Jones late in the third, Watt’s faceoff win in the Wild zone found Mitch Kontny, who ripped a shot past Nichols at 15:11.

Johnstown, which only registered three shots during the third, saw its chances to tie flutter past the net or get poked away during the remaining time.

“It was an exciting game to watch. It’s a game that we wished that we had,” Spence said. “Wished that we would have buried a couple of our chances. Wished that we didn’t miss the net or that a couple of shots didn’t get blocked. I really think that we deserved better, but that’s not the way things work some nights.”

Nichols stopped 18 shots while Brennan turned away 25 of the 28 shots he faced.