The Johnstown Tomahawks’ second season won’t start until September.
But the foundation of the sophomore NAHL season will be set today through Sunday at Planet Ice.
The Tomahawks will hold their main tryout camp during the next four days, with as many as 80 players expected to converge on the Richland Township rink.
“This is the camp where we want to pick our team,” said head coach Jason Spence, who a year ago was learning on his feet during the inaugural preseason for a team that won over Johnstown hockey fans. “We feel really comfortable that we did a good job of recruiting this year. These are going to be the players that we are going to be counting on all season.”
The Tomahawks coordinated three earlier summer tryouts in Michigan, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Players emerged from those sessions and will be joined by tendered players, returnees and NAHL Entry Draft selections.
Today’s session will begin at 5 p.m.
Practice continues on Friday with sessions and scrimmages at 9 a.m. (two games) and 4 p.m. (two games); Saturday at 8 a.m. (goalies only) and 9:10 a.m. (two games); and Sunday at 11 a.m. (all-star game).
“We had three different camps with 80-plus kids at every camp,” Spence said. “We took the best of those camps and we’re bringing them into Johnstown to compete for a spot on our team this year.”
The Tomahawks went 27-21-12 with 66 points in the NAHL’s North Division last season. Johnstown advanced to the Robertson Cup playoffs but bowed out.
Johnstown averaged almost 2,600 fans a game at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, fifth-best in the NAHL.
The Tomahawks had three players make NCAA Division I commitments and two others advance to different leagues in the offseason. The ’Hawks contributed more than $25,000 in charity donations during the 2012-13 season and were active in the community.
The NAHL named the Tomahawks the league’s organization of the year.
Now, Act II begins.
“We’re in a really good position,” Tomahawks President Richard Bouchard said. “Everybody was talking about us, and everybody wants to come here to play. There will be some real good talent.”
Spence said returnees trying out at camp include: defensemen Jake Fairchild, Jesse Kessler and Mitch Hall; forwards Jordan Watt, JB Baker, Zach Wallace, Jaycob McCombs; and goaltender Colin Brennan.
“All of our returning players are trying out for the spots they earned last year,” Bouchard said. “They’re trying to win their spots back.”
Johnstown’s top two NAHL Entry Draft selections from last month are expected in camp. Top pick Casey Linkenheld had 14 goals and 31 points for Team Illinois. The 5-foot-11 forward also was picked by the Lincoln Stars in the USHL draft.
No. 2 selection, goaltender Brett Young, played for Little Caesar’s Club in Detroit and went 20-14-4 with six shutouts. He was at the Tomahawk’s Michigan tryout.
“This year we know a lot more of what we’re getting,” Spence said. “Last year it was totally new to our whole organization. We took the players that were returning from the year before and kind of used them as models or a gauge to the new kids coming in. This year we know a lot more of what to expect, what we want and what we’re going to get.”
Bouchard expects a strong contingent in goal.
In addition to Brennan returning, the Tomahawks have Young and Alex Okicki, who played for the Kalamazoo Junior K-Wings last season. Okicki went 18-11-4 with a 2.74 GAA and .918 save percentage. He had 33 wins in the past two seasons with Kalamazoo, which no longer is in the NAHL.
“The goalie competition should be very good,” said Bouchard, noting two to three additional netminders should be at the tryout. “There is some real good talent in goal.”
The Tomahawks open the regular season on Sept. 14 and 15 against the Port Huron Fighting Falcons at the War Memorial. The ‘’Hawks will play 28 home games during the 60-game NAHL season.
“From my perspective it seems like it ended not so long ago, and here we are getting ready to start up again,” Bouchard said.