Alex Gritz will never forget the first time he skated with the Johnstown Tomahawks as a wide-eyed 12-year-old.
“I stepped on the ice and got some flashbacks,” Gritz said after the Tomahawks held their first training camp session at 1st Summit Arena on Monday morning. “It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was seven or eight years ago.
“I was out here and got to practice with the Tomahawks.”
At age 12, Gritz had a rare opportunity thanks to his skating and skill coach Steve Emmett, a former Johnstown Wings player who had ties to both the Johnstown Chiefs and the Tomahawks.
Emmett recommended to coach Mike Letizia and the Tomahawks staff that it would be worth getting an early glimpse of Gritz, a left wing who resides in Cranberry Township, Butler County, and will turn 20 on Tuesday.
“Alex Gritz is a kid when he was 12 years old, for a fun skate one time, came out with his skating coach and skated with us,” Letizia said. “Not necessarily with us in practice. He did some other things. We’ve always kept a close eye on his career.”
Gritz’s career path took him to the highest levels of junior hockey. He skated in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Grey Hounds (2016-17) and the Erie Otters (2017-18 to 2019-20). Last season after five games in Erie, Gritz landed in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and played 45 games with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
“This is his 20-year-old year. With everything going, on some options were a little different for him this year,” Letizia said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on all sports. “We drafted him in the supplemental draft. A couple weeks ago he called and said he’s coming to play here this year. It’s a huge boost for us having a kid of that caliber, with that talent and he’s somewhat of a hometown kid.”
The Tomahawks selected Gritz with the 50th pick in the NAHL Supplemental Draft in May.
Gritz said stepping onto the ice on Monday brought back memories, but he quickly got to work with this year’s Tomahawks.
“I am really close to Stevie Emmett. He’s my skating coach still and skills coach,” Gritz said. “He worked in the (Tomahawks) organization then. I was fortunate that Mike and the coaching staff let me come down and practice with the guys. It was a great experience for me.
“It was really eye-opening to see how hard those guys work at this level,” he said. “I think it really helped me when I was young to see what it is like to be at the rink every day.”
Gritz had 25 goals and 57 points in 162 games in the OHL. Last season, he netted two goals and eight points in the QMJHL.
“This is my fifth year of doing it,” Gritz said. “To now be playing here is pretty special.
“This morning brought back memories,” he added.
“I’m really excited. We have a good group in there. Mike is terrific. Obviously he has a great track record with this team and this league.”