The Johnstown Tomahawks faced a Michigan Warriors team on an eight-game winning streak Friday night at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The Warriors hadn’t lost since Jan. 3. Coach Moe Mantha’s squad moved from the middle of the pack to the role of a contender in the tight NAHL North Division.
Johnstown had to elevate its game in order to slow down the Warriors.
The Tomahawks accomplished that goal in a 5-0 shutout over Michigan in front of 1,782 fans.
“We knew coming in here that we needed four points this weekend,” said Tomahawks goaltender Alex Okicki, who stopped 30 shots. “These guys were on a hot streak.”
Johnstown played perhaps its most complete game of the season, outshooting the Warriors 35-30 and playing a physical but disciplined style.
“We got in on them and stayed physical,” Okicki said. “We forced them to make mistakes.”
The third-place Tomahawks (24-19-3) closed within three points of second-place Michigan (23-13-8).
The teams play again at 7 tonight at the War Memorial.
“That’s the only game this year we played where you could almost take a breath,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “We’ve played hard all season, but tonight we got the bounces and we made a lot of the bounces. Pucks went in for us.”
The Tomahawks were sharp from the outset, posting a 13-5 shots advantage in the first period and leading 2-0 on goals by Matt Meier and Josh Bowes.
The first also included two fights and a scrum that resulted in matching roughing calls.
Meier’s one-timer from the slot was set up by Shane Bednard at 10:37. Just over seven minutes later, Bowes got his own rebound, maneuvered around a defender and slipped the puck to an opening behind Michigan goaltender Trevor Gorsuch. Bednard and Meier assisted.
“They say two goals is the worst lead in hockey because teams tend to get comfortable,” Spence said. “But the guys bore down and did a good job.”
The Tomahawks had a full 2-minute, two-man advantage early in the second. Dakoda Menslage’s blast from the left point made it 3-0. Cody Bentzel’s cross-ice pass set up Menslage’s second goal of the season on the power play.
“The bigger cushion, the better,” Okicki said.
Defenseman Logan Hudson scored in his first game back from injury.
Hudson gave the Hawks a four-goal lead after his shot from just inside the blue line on the left wing caught a piece of Gorsuch’s pad or skate and went through the five hole at 13:03 of the second.
Late in the second, the Tomahawks backed up their goaltender.
Michigan’s Cody Lichtenvoort charged the cage and Okicki took a hit to his head and fell. Hudson and Meier immediately skated to the boards behind the goal line and confronted Lichtenvoort.
“We wanted to play disciplined but we wanted to play team tough,” Spence said. “Tonight was a rough game both ways. We’ve played them a ton of times, back to back, and you get those heated rivalries.”
Lichtenvort received a roughing minor and a 5-minute charging major for hitting Okicki. Bednard and Meier each received roughing minors.
“They were getting really chippy towards the end,” Okicki said. “They were trying to cause us to do something stupid. But our guys stayed under control. Meier and Hudson went right after that guy.”
Casey Linkenheld scored his first goal with the Tomahawks 9:08 into the third. Bowes assisted.
Despite the lopsided score, there was some late drama as Okicki lost his goalie stick behind the cage with Michigan skating on a power play.
Bentzel gave his stick to Okicki, and the netminder had to weather about a minute until a stoppage.
“All the guys were working even harder knowing the goalie doesn’t have his stick,” Okicki said.
Spence expects the Warriors to be motivated tonight.
“I’m sure they’re going to come back really hungry,” Spence said.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.