Johnstown Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia and his players probably have never looked forward to a six-hour bus ride more than this one.
“We have an opponent coming up,” Letizia said during a telephone interview on Monday. “We’re literally counting down the hours.”
The ‘Hawks will travel to Danbury, Connecticut, for scheduled games against the Jr. Hat Tricks on Thursday (12:30 p.m.) and Friday (7:05).
The Tomahawks haven’t played an opponent since a 6-2 victory over the Northeast Generals in Attleboro, Massachusetts, on Oct. 23.
The North American Hockey League team has endured three consecutive weekends of COVID-19 pandemic-related postponements.
“It definitely feels good to open up a week with an opponent on the slate in a few days,” Letizia said. “We’ve been practicing (since being cleared last week). We’ve gotten a little better every day. We held the intra-squad scrimmage (on Friday) and that was a good way for us to condition, build up stamina and honor the military and those who have done so much for us.
“I thought it was great. Now we flip the page and start to prepare for an opponent.”
The fourth-place Tomahawks (3-0-3, nine points) haven’t lost a game in regulation this season.
Despite the idle time, Johnstown is only five points out of first place in the East Division.
Third-place Danbury is 5-1-0 with 10 points.
The Maine Nordiques top the division at 7-3-0 (14 points), and the New Jersey Titans are second at 4-3-4 (12).
“It’s an unusual situation. We’ve said since Day 1, it’s one like no other,” Letizia said. “We need everybody to pull the load a bit. These situations, it’s a ‘we before me’ approach to help the greater good of the team.”
The Tomahawks had home games against the New Jersey Titans postponed on Oct. 30-31 due to precautions taken amid the pandemic. The same teams had games postponed in New Jersey on Nov. 6-7.
The make-up dates at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial will be Dec. 18-19. The two games in New Jersey now will be rescheduled on Nov. 29 and Feb. 4.
Last weekend, Danbury opted not to travel to Johnstown for two scheduled games over COVID-19 related issues.
Throughout the three weeks, the Tomahawks were creative in terms of virtual meetings and practices, especially during the team’s quarantine time.
“We stayed in touch quite a bit,” Letizia said. “We obviously had to be smart about what we did and taking care of each other. We did a lot of virtual exercising and team-building. We still found great ways to work together as a team, using technology.
“It was impressive to see the guys make it work, though it’s not surprising,” he said. “This generation is really good with technology.
“We kept it engaging and fun as much as possible.”
The approach took on a more serious tone this week.
“Danbury is a franchise that was in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (in recent seasons),” Letizia said. “They have a few old players from the Knights, but the majority of players are new. They’re off to a good start.
“For us it’s a new challenge, a new environment. We have a big test ahead of us, especially given our circumstances with a long layoff. We’re hoping the excitement of being back playing will give us an extra boost.”