A three-game weekend homestand for the Johnstown Tomahawks kicked off in dramatic fashion Friday night with a 5-4 comeback victory over the visiting Northeast Generals.
First-place Johnstown (25-6-4) fell behind 2-0 in the first period and 4-3 in the third before Jared Gerger slammed home a rebound to knot the contest at the 10:00 mark, and just over four minutes later, team captain Alex Gritz scored what proved to be the game-winner from the right of the crease on a feed from John Gelatt.
“This game was all over the place,” said Johnstown coach Mike Letizia, whose squad extended its home-ice winning streak to 16. “We had a lot of peaks and valleys.
“That team (Northeast) played hard and gave us one of the tougher games we’ve had."
Five different players scored for the Tomahawks, with Gritz and Gelatt each tallying a goal and an assist, while Dustin Geregach and Max Neill each picked up a pair of assists for Johnstown.
“That’s been the identity of our team,” Letizia said. “Everyone has the ability to contribute, with different guys stepping up at different times.”
Backup goaltender Josh Graziano got the call in net for the Tomahawks and improved his record to 6-3-2 while turning away 16 of 20 shots.
The Generals (12-25-3) looked like anything but the last-place team in the NAHL’s East Division in the early going. Northeast opened the scoring when Dylan Schuett wristed one past Graziano from the right side at the 7:14 mark of the first, with Adam Smith and Brent Keefer assisting. The Generals added to that lead almost seven minutes later when Tyler Cooper scored on a feed from Jake Dunlap to make it 2-0.
Johnstown got back in the game with 2:08 left in the first when Gelatt notched his team-leading 20th goal of the season to convert the Tomahawks’ second power-play opportunity of the period, with Geregach and Neill assisting on the play.
The Tomahawks carried that momentum into the second period, as Johnstown capitalized on two power-play chances to take the lead. Will Margel’s pass from behind the net found Anthony Mastromonica, who blasted a shot past Generals goaltender Hugo Haas to tie it at the 9:01 mark. Gritz was also credited with an assist.
With 3:21 left in the second, Johns- town cashed in a third consecutive power play to go up 3-2 on Jay Ahearn’s 19th goal of the year, with Geregach and William Persson picking up assists.
“Our special teams came through,” Letizia said. “We made our shots count on the power play.”
However, the Generals refused to fold in the third period. Ryan Gordon found the net for the first time this year to tie the game on a power play at the 6:43 mark on assists from Jonathan Young and David Andreychuk, and Northeast subsequently regained a 4-3 lead on Dunlap’s shot from between the circles with 11:54 remaining in regulation after assists by Liam McCanney and Max Bronstine.
That set the stage for the Tomahawks’ rally down the stretch. After Haas made a save on a shot by Neill, Gerger buried the rebound for his fifth goal of the season to make it 4-4, and Gritz later picked up his 10th goal of the year on assists from Gelatt and Max Smolinski for the game-winner.
“In the third period, they (Northeast) made a good push and battled hard,” said Gritz. “But we stuck with our game and wore them out at the end. Smolinski made a great play on the puck to give us a chance, and then I got a great pass from John (Gelatt).”
The two teams will meet again at 7 p.m. Saturday night.