Jay Ahearn

Johnstown Tomahawks forward Jay Ahearn celebrates a goal during a North American Hockey League game against the Northeast Generals at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown, PA., Thursday, Dec.31, 2020.

The seats at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial were empty on Thursday night, which is quite a contrast to the traditional New Year’s Eve extravaganza.

With no crowd noise, the Johnstown Tomahawks made a loud statement on the ice, reeling off eight goals and allowing none in an 8-0 victory over the Northeast Generals.

“It was kind of hard at first with no fans in the building,” said Tomahawks forward John Gelatt, who netted two goals and two assists. “We had to create our own energy. Getting the first goal was huge. We just kind of went from there and kept our momentum going.”

Gelatt scored 14:28 into the game. His linemate Jay Ahearn and Drew Murphy each scored goals only 1 minute, 15 seconds apart late in the first period to make it 3-0.

A pair of 5-on-3 power-play goals by Ahearn and Gelatt combined with David Paluch’s rebound goal and captain Alex Gritz’s short-handed marker made it 7-0 through two periods.

That was more than enough offense for goaltender Sam Evola, who stopped all 27 shots he faced in a shutout that improved his record to 7-1-2.

“He played great for us,” Gelatt said of the Tomahawks goaltender. “In the beginning, we were sloppy. He made some big saves for us to keep them off the board.

“He just kept us in there and locked it down for us. He did not let them come back in any way.”

Dominic Schimizzi added a third-period goal to set the final.

“I thought it was clearly a good effort. It was nice to see pucks go into the net,” Letizia said. “The power play stepped up in a big way, especially in the second period when we needed it.”

The Tomahawks and Generals will play again at 1 p.m. Friday. No fans will be permitted at the game due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Six different players scored at least one goal for the Tomahawks on Thursday, with Gelatt and Ahearn each collecting four points.

In addition to Ahearn and Murphy’s quick-strike goals in the first period, Gelatt and Paluch had goals only 46 seconds apart in the second.

The ’Hawks had two power-play goals and one short-handed tally.

Too bad no fans could watch in person due to restrictions intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“Obviously it was disappointing from a community standpoint. This is a tradition in Johnstown for years,” Letizia said of New Year’s Eve. “It’s a great night all the way around. It was weird at first before the game started, and then once the puck dropped, it was a hockey game.

“It was 60 minutes. We had to find a way to get two points.”

After having five games postponed in December, Letizia and the Tomahawks were thankful to be able to play – period – with or without fans for the first time in 20 days.

The Tomahawks are 7-1-1 on New Year’s Eve with four sellout crowds. Prior to this year, the team never had a crowd smaller than 3,000 for the holiday game.

The former ECHL Johnstown Chiefs posted a 13-4-3 record with 11 sellouts on New Year’s Eve at the War Memorial.

“We just have to try our best to forget about it,” Gelatt said of playing in an empty arena. “It definitely was a little weird because even with all the restrictions going on, we usually have a decent amount of people in here, more than other teams in our division (had earlier in the season).

“We just kind of have to block it out, play our game and build our own energy.”

The second-place Tomahawks (9-3-3) have 21 points and trail first-place Maine by one point in the East Division standings. The Nordiques were idle on Thursday. Northeast (6-12-1) has 13 points in fifth place.

“There were obviously some areas we need to clean up but overall for the first game back after a decent-sized break, it was a good step in the right direction,” Letizia said.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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