The Johnstown Tomahawks would have accepted a win in any shape or form on Friday night.
The NAHL team had lost seven consecutive games and multiple North Division teams were gaining ground at Johnstown’s expense.
Any victory would do.
But a 6-3 comeback win over the Soo Eagles in front of 1,876 fans at Cambria County War Memorial Arena? Four third-period goals? Five of six on the power play?
That type of performance potentially could propel the Tomahawks through the final four games of the regular season.
“This is huge for everyone, the coaching staff, the players, the whole way through,” said Tomahawks coach Jason Spence, whose team had gone 0-5-2 since Feb. 22. “We needed that win and we need a win (tonight). We need that game just as much as (Friday).
“We’re at a spot now where we can’t look back and have regrets. We have to make sure we’re 100 percent on all cylinders and ready to compete.”
The fourth-place Tomahawks (27-24-5, 59 points) and last-place Eagles (23-26-7, 53) meet again at 7 tonight at the War Memorial. Johnstown closes its home portion of the schedule on Sunday afternoon, also against Soo.
Third-place Janesville (60) beat second-place Michigan (63) by a 4-1 score on Friday. Fifth-place Springfield (56) lost 3-2 in overtime to Topeka.
“We’re already in playoff hockey mode,” said Johnstown forward Brandon Reinholz, whose power-play tally with 1:45 left snapped a personal 10-game string without a goal dating to Jan. 31. “This team is right below us in the standings. No more motivation is needed.”
Soo led 3-2 entering the final period.
The Tomahawks’ power play was a difference-maker, as Mitch Hall converted a 5-on-3 advantage at 10:52, and Casey Linkenheld scored on the second half of the power play to give Johnstown a 4-3 lead. The third-period goals 16 seconds apart had the War Memorial crowd rocking.
Reinholz added his 17th of the season, and Shane Cuckovich converted another power play goal with 17 seconds remaining. The Tomahawks scored twice during Trevor Boyd’s five-minute major penalty for spearing.
“Our power play had been struggling a little bit but they really showed up today,” Okicki said.
Okicki recorded his 20th win of the season, a milestone he had been trying to reach since he won No. 19 on Feb. 21 against Wenatchee.
“It’s good to get the monkey off the back,” Okicki said. “It’s a tight race heading into the playoffs and we need to get as many points as we can. We’re not ready to go home yet.
“It’s just another number,” Okicki said of 20 wins. “It’s more important getting the team the win and the points.”
The game was tight through 40 minutes.
Soo capitalized on a Tomahawks’ turnover at the offensive zone blue line to create a 2-on-1 break. Sandis Zolmanis skated with the puck on the left wing, waited and then passed to Michael Sabatini in the slot. Sabatini scored at 11:40 of the first period.
Only 26 seconds later, the Tomahawks tied the game on Trevor Recktenwald’s ninth goal of the season.
Reinholz won a faceoff in the left-wing faceoff circle, and Recktenwald picked up the puck just behind the dot and wristed a top-shelf shot through traffic and just inside the far post to tie the score.
Neither team had a penalty in the first period, but special teams played a significant role in the second and third.
Johnstown’s Jordan Watt converted a power play 4:16 into the second for his 20th goal of the season. Shane Bednard and Mitch Hall assisted as the Hawks led 2-1.
Soo’s Scott Cuthrell scored on a power play at 8:31 of the period, and Michael Caruso gave the Eagles a 3-2 lead with his power-play goal at 15:32.
“When we got down, we gave it everything,” Spence said. “I don’t think there was ever a point in the game where we weren’t working hard. We had a couple mistakes, but I think this is a real big character comeback win and that’s what we really needed.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.