For 59 minutes on Monday night, the Johnstown Tomahawks put forth one of the NAHL team’s most complete efforts of the season.
The Hawks held a two-goal lead heading into the final minute in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 2,875 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Then, suddenly, and unexpectedly, the Michigan Warriors scored twice in a 46-second span.
Talk of a potential shutout win turned to thoughts of an overtime battle.
“The guys were buzzing all game,” said Tomahawks goaltender Jake Moore after his 37-save effort in regulation and overtime. “We started out really good. Towards the end, they started getting some chances, but that’s where I come in. That’s my job.
“They got those two quick ones but we didn’t lose any confidence.”
The Tomahawks might have briefly lost their way, but the North Division second-place team rebounded impressively in a 3-2 overtime shootout victory in their first appearance on home ice in 37 days.
Moore stopped all four Warriors’ shootout attempts.
Johnstown’s Tyler Basham scored in the first round of the shootout, and Jordan Watt clinched it with a goal in the fourth round.
“We have to clean up a few things,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “We did well in the offensive end and made chances. But we gave up a couple chances in the second half of the game that I’d like to stay away from.”
The second-place Tomahawks have 40 points in the North Division, two points better than the third-place Warriors and three behind division-leading Port Huron.
Johnstown hadn’t played at the War Memorial since a 3-2 shootout win over Port Huron on Nov. 23.
The wait for the next home date only will be a matter of hours. The Tomahawks and Warriors will meet again at 6 tonight while continuing Johnstown hockey’s New Year’s Eve tradition.
“The Tomahawks played a heck of a game,” Warriors coach Moe Mantha said. “They played hard. They played in your face. They get after the puck. Our guys will have to make some adjustments.”
Johnstown built a 2-0 advantage on Basham’s power-play goal at 17:37 of the opening period and Matthew Meier’s goal 10:38 into the second.
The Warriors went on a late third period power play. Mantha used his timeout and pulled goaltender Trevor Gorsuch, creating a two-man advantage.
Tyler Groat scored with 50 seconds left.
“The first one, it took a crazy bounce and came right out in front to their guy,” Moore said. “It was an unlucky bounce and he spun around and got a good shot off in the top corner.”
Jon Farkas tied it with :04 on the clock.
“The last goal, the puck came out to the point and the shot got through,” Spence said. “I’m sure he didn’t see it. It was one of those pucks that just had eyes. It was a tough break.
“We’re proud of our finding a way to win. Now, we have to find a way to make sure we end that game before that type of thing happens.”
Mantha said the Warriors created more opportunities late in the game, something he hopes his players do tonight in front of an anticipated sellout crowd.
“It’s an unbelievable atmosphere,” said Mantha, who played four of his 12 NHL seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and coached the former Columbus Chill team in the ECHL from 1994-96. “A lot of players maybe never, ever play again in this type of environment in front of this type of a crowd. It’s nice to come into an environment like that where you have the crowd and the noise. It’s a hockey atmosphere.”