Billy Simms

Johnstown Tomahawks defenseman Billy Simms

EBENSBURG – When the Johnstown Tomahawks travel to Jamestown, New York, on Wednesday for their first exhibition game, most of the players suiting up for coach Mike Letizia will be making their first appearance for the squad.

Billy Simms will be in the minority, as he technically was a member of the team all last season, but most of that time was spent back home in Michigan rehabbing a badly broken leg.

The defenseman was injured early last season when he collided with a member of the Maryland Black Bears in a nasty knee-to-knee hit.

“I got hurt the second shift of the second game,” Simms said Saturday after an intrasquad scrimmage at North Central Recreation Center. “I went to step up on a kid when he was cutting across the zone and he cut at the last second, and our legs just collided.”

Simms’ Blue squad lost 4-1 to the Red team in Saturday’s scrimmage. T.J. Koufis scored twice, and David Wilcox and Jacob Badal added goals for the winning side, while Dusty Geregach netted the only goal for the Blue team.

The exhibition games against the Rebels, who did not play last season due to the pandemic, will be a nice change of pace for the Tomahawks after several weeks of facing each other in practice.

“I think not only to play somebody else, but also to see where we’re at,” Letizia said.

“It’s still exhibition, so it’s not going to tell the entire story – we’re still going to be looking at some different names, but you can tell if you’re close or if you still have some work to do.”

Simms still has some work to do as he returns from his injury.

“We expected him to take a little time to get his game back,” Letizia said. “When you don’t play real hockey for a year, it’s hard. You can skate all you want, you can work out all you want, but it’s hard.”

A veteran of 41 North American Hockey League games, including stints with Springfield and Lone Star, Simms broke his tibia last year. He had broken the femur in his left leg when he was 14 and now has two rods and seven screws in the leg.

“He had major, major leg surgery last season and he had it previously,” Letizia said. “He’s working his way back. He’s competing and he has some veteran experience from playing in the league for a little bit.

“With losing so many guys, there are all kinds of pieces of the puzzle. We want to make sure he’s getting better every day in terms of his health and ability to play.

“Hopefully, he can contribute when he feels 100%.”

Simms is looking forward to getting back on the ice in a game situation.

“It’s been a long time, so I’m just trying to get comfortable again playing games and get my confidence back,” Simms said.

“I know what I can bring, but I feel like I need to show it all the time and be more consistent.”

Simms has been impressed with what he’s seen out of the Tomahawks so far in training camp.

“This is one of the closer teams I’ve seen this early in the year, and there are a lot of good guys on the team, so I think we should mesh pretty well,” Simms said.

Simms could play a big role for the Tomahawks if he can get back to where he was before his injury.

“I think Billy has good offensive ability from the back end,” Letizia said. “He moves the puck well. He’s mobile. That’s one of his biggest assets. Obviously, his injury didn’t help that, but he still has his agility. I think he’s got a little feistiness in him. When he plays a little mean, it definitely helps him and opens up the game a little bit and helps our team overall as well.”

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