The Johnstown Towmahawks’ inaugural season opened with an overtime loss at Port Huron and ended with a gutwrenching overtime setback to the Fighting Falcons Sunday at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
In between, the hits far outweighed the misses.
Yet, that won’t take the sting off a season-ending 4-3 loss to Port Huron any time soon. The game, which was the third and deciding in a NAHL North Division play-in series, was basically dominated by Johnstown until the final 10 minutes of the third period. The Tomahawks surged to a 3-1 lead before allowing two late goals in regulation and the series clincher in overtime.
It was a difficult end – players sat in the locker room in uniform 45 minutes after the game – to an otherwise successful season.
“I still think we should have won that game and always will. It didn’t go our way,” said Tomahawks coach Jason Spence, who area hockey fans first got to know as a tough-as-nails player for the Johnstown Chiefs.
“Johnstown is a hockey town. It always has been. We came in here with a junior team and I think we did a really good job. I was here with the pro team and the other as a coach, and I can honestly say that this brand of hockey suits Johnstown the best. It’s fast. Everyone knows it’s physical. And the guys just want to play every night. As a coach it touches your heart.”
While the goal of winning the 2013 Robertson Cup was not achieved, many other goals of the organization were met.
“We really wanted to come in and set a standard for the team,” said goaltender Chris Truehl, who will play for the Air Force Academy next season. “We wanted to be a team that improved through the year, would win in the playoffs and be fun to watch. We wanted to set a precedent for all Tomahawks teams to follow.”
At the forefront was playing winning and entertaining hockey. The Tomahawks finished the regular season with a 27-21-12 record, good enough for fifth place in the North Division. They also ranked fifth in the league in average attendance and played in front of seven sellout crowds.
“A lot of people just had to see one game and they were hooked,” Spence said.
Johnstown went from a first-year team to the envy of North Division.
“We want to know their secrets,” said Port Huron coach and Genreal Manager Michael Gershon. “Basically, we have the same demographics that they do. We’re near Detroit and they’re near Pittsburgh. Both areas love hockey. Their ownership has obviously done very well.”
The Tomahawks played on pink ice to help raise awareness and funds for cancer. Penguins players Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz brought the Stanley Cup to a game. Cooke helped organize a charity exhibition between members of the Penguins and the Tomahawks that was nixed at the last minute when the NHL Lockout was resolved. There was a Guns & Hoses Night honoring local police, fire and EMS departments and a Jack Ham bobblehead. Ham is a minority owner.
“We cannot thank the people of Johnstown and the surrounding areas enough for the support they have shown us over the past season,” said Tomawhawks President Rick Bouchard. “This community has embraced us with an enthusiams that makes us all proud to call Johnstown home to the Tomahawks.”
The Hanson Brothers even returned to the barn that made them famous.
“The atmosphere here was amazing,” Truehl said. “Given some of the paces we played this year, playing in front of sellout crowds in unreal. We’d walk down the street and people would know who we were. That’s something I’m going to miss.”
Truehl, like many of the Tomahawks who were on the ice for Game 3 of the playoff series, won’t be back.
In their places will be fresh faces ready to make an impact in junior hockey and help the Tomahawks further this year’s success.
Several players have already been tendered and the organization continues to scout.
“Our coaching staff did a great job with what we gave them to work with,” General manager Rick Boyd said. “We’ll make some changes and do a better job of identifying players who fit in this league.”
Several players came to Johnstown from Palmer, Alaska, where they played for the Alaska Avalanche.
Cody Gylling, who scored a magnificant backhanded-goal to give Johnstown a 2-1 lead on Sunday, led the team with 45 points. Captain Mitch Kontny scored a team-high 21 goals. Jake Fairchild tallied 210 penalty minutes. Zach Wallace was plus-11. Truehl won 18 games, including the postseason.