For The Tribune-Democrat
On Friday night, the Tomahawks special teams play was, well, special.
Johnstown went 3-for-5 on the power play and killed both penalties in a 4-3 win over Kalamazoo at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
“Our penalty kill has really been meshing well. We do a good job of staying in our lanes and staying disciplined,” Johnstown coach Jason Spence said. “And our power play did really well (Friday night). We were moving the puck around and supporting each other.”
The numbers are even better than they look.
Johnstown’s fifth power play lasted only the final 10 seconds of the game after a boarding penalty by Kalamazoo’s Nick Kovalchik – his third minor of the game – on captain Mitch Kontny. The Tomahawks key penalty kill came with just 5:57 left and Johnstown nursing the 4-3 lead.
Johnstown goaltender Collin Brennan was solid on that kill and all night making 18 saves on 21 shots.
“Their power play was firing on all cylinders and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Kalamazoo assistant coach Matt Staehely said. “We’ve got to stay out of the box (tonight) and hopefully we can take care of business.”
Kalamazoo struck first on a goal by forward Robbie Payne 4:46 into the first period.
The Tomahawks answered with two man-advantage goals to take a 2-1 first period lead. Jaycob McCombs scored 8:31 into the first and Connor Wright added a tally with 2:22 left.
Even though the Tomahawks dominated the game on paper – outshooting the visitors 35-21 – they never really let the 3,038 fans get comfortable, twice allowing a goal to surrender their two-goal cushion.
“You’ve got to let them know what they did well to get that two-goal lead,” Spence said. “Let them know you can’t change those things. We got the lead and made a couple bad passes through the middle. That’s not what we do, we want to use our speed and chip the puck and go around them.”
One Tomahawks’ player using his speed and making a lot happen was recently-acquired forward Andrew McDonald. His name didn’t appear on the score sheet, but he was on the ice for two of Johnstown’s four goals.
“Obviously, I’m new to this squad and I’ve got to find where I fit in,” the 5-foot-8, 150-pound McDonald said.
“I found myself in the corners, working it down low and in the right spots for some chances. My teammates are behind me, they’ve got my back and they know I’ve got theirs. Our coach knows that we have some speed on our team and we could use it to go around a couple of their defensemen.”
Johnstown forward Brandon Reinholz scored 4:33 into the second giving the hosts the 3-1 lead, but K-Wings forward Mikhail Bushinski scored 5:28 later to keep Kalamazoo close.
Casey Nelson’s tally 14:35 into the middle frame gave Johnstown the two-goal lead again.
But Johnstown let that gap narrow after Kalamazoo defenseman Brett Beauvais’ goal with 17 seconds left in the second.
“A couple times we had them stuck in their zone,” Spence said. “We were running our offense down low really well and then we got caught with three men down low and they ended up with an odd-man rush and scored … with 17 seconds left.”
Kalamazoo goaltender Marcus Due-Boje made 31 saves.
“Marcus has been a rock back there for us.” Staehely said.
Notes: The Hanson Brothers were on the War Memorial Ice again Friday night, the “Little Hansons” that is. Local youth hockey players Nick McQuillan, Gunnar Hockenberry and Michael Lamison were dressed as the legendary “Slap Shot” characters – complete with taped Coke bottle eye glasses and blue and yellow Charlestown Chiefs Jerseys – to promote the arrival of the real Hanson Brothers Dec. 14 when the Tomahawks host the Jamestown Ironmen. The “horrible looking” trio will be roaming the rink again for tonight’s game against the K-Wings.
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