A pair of layoffs end tonight when the Johnstown Tomahawks entertain the Michigan Warriors in the first of two games to close out 2013 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
The 7 p.m. puck drop marks the first time that Johnstown (18-12-2, 38 points) has skated against live action since a 2-1 win over the Warriors (15-10-7, 37 points) on Dec. 21.
With the Warriors just a point behind the second-place Tomahawks in the North Division, the impending two-game cluster is vital in carrying momentum into the new year.
“Michigan is a tough team,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “We played at Michigan last. We had line brawls, fights and they’re already physical. When you play a team like that a lot, those things happen. But they present a good matchup. Whomever works the hardest is going to win. We’ve had pretty decent success this season, but we have our greatest success when we play our hockey.
“We have to come out off the start and take it to them right away.”
The team resumed practice on Saturday following a week-long break over the Christmas holiday.
“It’s good to have a break in the mid season like that for all the players and coaches to recharge the batteries and try to get that hunger back,” Spence said. “It’s just long enough that the players are wanting to get back at it, but it’s not too long where guys get out of shape ... They come to practice every day because they love it and it is like a job, but you do it because it’s what you want to do for your life. You need a little break sometimes.”
That win over Michigan over a week ago ended an eight-game road trip for the Tomahawks that started on Nov. 30 at Wenatchee and swung through Port Huron and Michigan before giving the Tomahawks a two-game respite from the buses before taking on a seven-game road trek starting in Soo on Friday.
“(The scheduling) certainly didn’t play in our favor,” Spence said. “But the guys have been battling really hard, I think, and they’re doing a real good job. We definitely have to start building on wins. Instead of one win, we need to start getting two-win weekends.”
Michigan will be the Tomahawks’ next guest on Jan. 24-25.
Before that, there’s tonight and the New Year’s Eve tussle on Tuesday that Spence has seen on the ice as a member of the Johnstown Chiefs and as a coach.
“Everyone knows (the New Year’s Eve game) is a tradition in Johnstown,” Spence said. “It’s early enough that people can come to the game and then get to their celebrations. It’s going to continue to be a tradition for a lot of years to come.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.