After splitting the first two games of the weekend, the Johnstown Tomahawks delivered another come-from-behind effort on Sunday afternoon to defeat the Northeast Generals 4-3 and take the weekend series from their division rival.
“It’s good to find a way to get the two points,” said Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia. “Three-in-threes aren’t easy on anybody and they made it very difficult for us.”
Tied at 3 late in the third, the game appeared to be heading into overtime but Christian Gorscak had other plans in mind.
Off a scramble in front of the goal, the veteran Gorscak found a bouncing puck and batted it past the outstretched leg of Stanizzi for what turned out to be the game-winning goal with 2:02 left on the clock.
Through the opening 10 minutes of the first period, both teams looked like they were coming off back-to-back games and it took some time to get their game legs back. For the most part, the Generals were controlling the bulk of play but could not force Tomahawks goaltender David Tomeo into anything other than a handful of routine saves.
At the other end of the ice, Generals goaltender Joey Stanizzi did not have much to worry about in the early going of his third start in as many days. With the Tomahawks struggling to gain possession of the puck, Stanizzi only had to turn away four Tomahawks shots in the first period to keep a goose egg on their side of the scoreboard.
Late in the first period, the Generals were rewarded for their strong play courtesy of a power-play goal.
Defenseman Jared Lambright released a shot from the point that sailed over the left shoulder of Tomeo and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Tomeo was screened by a teammate in front of the goal and could not react to the puck as it passed by.
“It wasn’t a great start for us obviously,” said Letizia. “We had a really good first shift then didn’t play the game the right way for a while.”
After a rough first period that saw them trailing by a goal, the Tomahawks returned to the ice and stormed back in the second. Over the course of the middle 20-minute frame, the Tomahawks dominated possession and recorded a total of 22 shots compared to just six from the visiting Generals.
While the Tomahawks were dominating play, they were still unable to create anything in the way of a goal due to continued strong play from Stanizzi in net.
The Generals netminder made save after save to keep his side in front until the dam finally broke late in the second period.
What looked like a harmless shot on net turned into the tying goal thanks to an opportunistic play from forward Andrew Murphy. Sean Bauchens pushed the puck towards Stanizzi in goal, who went to clear the puck away from danger but was beat to the punch by the stick of Murphy to knock the puck into a gaping net to even the score at 1-all.
It was Murphy’s first career NAHL goal and sent packs of underwear flying onto the ice as a part of the Tomahawks’ “Undies Sunday” program to benefit local children in the region.
A little over two minutes after Murphy’s tying marker, the Tomahawks took their first lead of the afternoon off a rather fortuitous bounce. On the power play after a Generals’ penalty, defenseman Chris Trouba took a shot from the point that deflected off the face of Max Kouznetsov in front and into the back of the net past Stanizzi for a 2-1 Tomahawks advantage.
Letizia credited his guys for creating the goals, even if they used unconventional methods.
“Murph went where he had to go in front of the net and directed it in. Then on the go-ahead goal, Kouzy takes one off the face and it goes in.”
Just when it looked like the Tomahawks were going to carry a lead into the second intermission, the Generals struck 25 seconds after the Kouznetsov power-play goal to level the game before the horn. Thad Marcola picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone and made a power move to get a clear shot on goal, where he slid the puck between Tomeo’s legs for the goal to send the sides into the break knotted at 2-all on the scoreboard.
After 160 minutes of hockey since Friday night, the teams returned to the ice for the third period ready to give whatever they had left in the tank. The opening 10 minutes of the third flew by in a flash as back-and-forth play kept the whistles to a minimum with both teams searching for the tie breaker.
With 7:15 left in regulation, the Tomahawks broke the deadlock and took a 3-2 lead. Off a mad scramble in front of Stanizzi, Jesse Lycan was able to jam home a loose puck in the crease and put the Tomahawks back in front, although very briefly.
As they did in the second period, the Generals responded within seconds of the Tomahawks goal and it was once again a point shot past a screened Tomeo that brought the game back to even terms at 3-all. Jack Ring was given credit for the goal and everything was back to where it started with less than seven minutes left.
“I didn’t like on our second and third goal that they were able to respond quickly after,” lamented Letizia about the Generals tying the game seconds after the Tomahawks went ahead.
“I thought we made some uncharacteristic plays and we have to be smarter.”
Given how the Generals responded after falling behind twice before, the Tomahawks lead felt anything but a sure thing over the final two minutes. This time, however, the home side locked down and prevented the Generals from creating anything even remotely threatening and finished off the 4-3 victory.