Port Huron’s game-clinching goal epitomized the run of tough luck the Johnstown Tomahawks have encountered the past two weeks.
“Their guy laid down, swung his stick, and it got out of the zone and rolled and rolled,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said after a 4-2 loss extended Johnstown’s losing streak to six games.
Indeed. Fighting Falcons forward Nick Horne’s short-handed goal antagonized a sellout crowd of 3,725 by slowly making its way through open ice and into an empty net.
Prior to the goal with 1:10 left, the Tomahawks had put intense pressure on Port Huron netminder Alex Blankenburg. Johnstown skated on a power play and had pulled its goaltender for yet a second extra attacker.
“We had it going,” Spence said. “We had the pressure on them.”
Port Huron netted three first-period goals to quiet the Tomahawks’ fourth sellout crowd of the season, but the home team battled back to close within a goal and grab the momentum late, only to drop its sixth straight contest (0-3-3).
“Honestly, I think it was a couple bad bounces as ridiculous as that sounds with three goals,” Spence said. “One of them went off of our guy. I feel terrible for my team right now. They gave everything.
“The effort was there,” Spence added, shaking his head. “Any day, my team goes out and plays their butts off as hard as they can, whatever the score is, I don’t care.”
The Tomahawks (17-12-9, 43 points) might take some solace in the fact that Port Huron (18-19-3) came to Johnstown with the weight of a seven-game losing streak (0-6-1). But after a pair of wins, the Falcons have a new outlook.
“We talked to them as much as we really could during that seven-game losing streak,” Port Huron coach Michael Gershon said. “I think these guys were sick of the coaches talking. We said, ‘Go have fun. We’re on the road and there’s less pressure on the road.’
“There is a lot of pressure on these kids to live up to the legacy of the (former) professional guys (in Port Huron). I think it was good to get away from Port Huron a little bit.”
The Fighting Falcons coach and his staff attempted to coax the players out of the funk in a variety of ways.
“We tried to motivate them. We’d leave them alone,” Gershon said. “We’d do whatever we could. For whatever reason, we just never could get a bounce. We told them to just play simple. The simpler you play, the easier the game becomes.”
The fourth-place Tomahawks will have one more shot at salvaging the weekend when North Division-leading Soo visits at 1 p.m. today.
“Slumps aren’t always because you’re doing everything wrong,” Spence said. “Sometimes it takes a bounce here or there to get you back on it.”
Port Huron had those bounces in the first period. Dunk Abbott scored a pair of goals, and Kody Polin netted another to make it 3-0.
Spence hoped to jump start his team by inserting goaltender Chris Truehl in relief of starter Colin Brennan in the second period.
“Chris played great,” Spence said after Truehl stopped all 17 shots he faced. “I don’t think Brennan saw a couple shots and one was from a freaky angle, maybe hit something and went in. By no means was it Brennan’s fault. I was trying to get momentum by putting in another goalie.”
Tomahawks forward Jaycob McCombs provided a spark by completing a rush up the ice with a nice move before roofing a goal to make it 3-1.
“I don’t know if there is anyone in the league who is as fast as he is,” Spence said. “He has incredible speed. He got the puck in open ice. You’re going to have a hard time catching him.
“He went around the defenseman and kept the puck from the goalie’s poke-check, and then threw it upstairs as hard as he could.”
Jesse Kessler converted a third-period power play with assists by Brandon Reinholz and Casey Nelson at 3:23.
“Our power play has been struggling,” Spence said. “We hadn’t scored a power play goal since New Year’s weekend, so that was a big shot.”
Polin took a cross-checking penalty with 2:23 left. Spence pulled Truehl for a second extra attacker with 1:35 remaining.
“It was a late penalty,” Spence said. “I wanted to gain possession of the puck and pull the goalie. We were working on him hard. The bounces aren’t going for us right now but a lot of good teams have slumps.”
The Tomahawks have had four sellouts and six crowds of 3,000-plus during their inaugural season.
Unfortunately, Johnstown is winless in those sellout games (0-2-2). The Tomahawks rank fifth in the league with an average attendance of 2,379 in 18 dates.
“The guys were excited coming in after the first after we had quieted the sellout crowd,” Gershon said. “For us to get up 3-0 on them, to kind of shut their momentum down and take the crowd out of it really helped us.”
Corey Schafer, who played at Westmont Hilltop High School and was acquired this week in a trade, started for the Tomahawks.