The Johnstown Tomahawks haven’t played a game in nearly three weeks. When they meet the Northeast Generals for the annual New Year’s Eve game, no fans will be in the stands at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
Still, Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia is thankful for the opportunity his players and the Generals will have during this unusual 3 p.m. contest.
“Definitely, it will be a little different to play without fans, but our job is to play hockey no matter what the circumstances are,” Letizia said. “It’s obviously super unfortunate, but at the same time being able to play is really important.
“For the league, for our players, there are a lot of good outcomes for it. It’s definitely disappointing from a fan perspective. New Year’s Eve, generally, it’s a packed house and an amazing atmosphere. But just like anything else this year, it’s a little bit different now. We’re just going to have to be ready no matter what.”
The Tomahawks are 8-3-3 and with 19 points hold second place in the NAHL East Division, three points behind division-leading Maine.
The Generals are 6-11-1 with 13 points in fifth place.
Johnstown beat the Maryland Black Bears 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 11 at 1st Summit Arena. The next night’s scheduled game against the Black Bears and two the following weekend were postponed.
The Tomahawks had been set to begin an eight-game homestand prior to the postponements resulting from statewide mandates to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization noted in a release that the team is deemed “equal to a professional sports organization and therefore remain allowed to play” even though the restrictions last until 8 a.m. on Monday.
“We’ve been lucky to this point. A lot of teams don’t get to have fans,” Letizia said. “We were fortunate for the most part. Hopefully it’s only these two games and moving forward we can have fans back in.”
Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday that his three-week order aimed at alleviating the strain on the state’s health care system as COVID-19 cases surged across the state would not be extended beyond Monday.
The measures included a ban on indoor dining, a reduction on crowd sizes, canceling scholastic sports and in-person extracurricular scholastic activities, closing gyms and casinos and limiting retail stores to 50% capacity. In-person businesses have been allowed to operate at up to 75% capacity.
On the ice, the Tomahawks will try to regain momentum. Johnstown had won two straight games and was 6-3-1 in its past 10 contests when the postponements occurred.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of an adjustment period when you come back from a long break,” Letizia said. “Our practices have been at a pretty high pace. Sometimes, I think a break can really reenergize the guys. You miss the game. You miss your teammates. They can bring a newfound energy.”
The Tomahawks and Generals also will play at 1 p.m. Friday – New Year’s Day.