Johnstown Tomahawks – Mike Letizia

Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia (top right) listens to a message from equipment manager Dave Dunkleberger during a game at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. 

The Johnstown Tomahawks are looking for a new equipment manager.

The organization’s previous equipment manager – Dave Dunkleberger – has left the post to fully transition to the role of assistant coach, a spot that he officially filled for the Tomahawks this past season following the sudden departure of former assistant coach Nick Mish.

Dunkleberger, who passed the 400-game milestone with the franchise this past season, had already been a steady hand on the Tomahawks bench alongside head coach Mike Letizia before taking on the label as assistant coach.

The coaching duo – along with Chris Trouba, who serves as the team’s on- and off-ice development coach – guided the Tomahawks to a 39-10-5 record and the NAHL East Division’s regular-season crown this past season. Johnstown fell to the Maryland Black Bears in the first round of the Robertson Cup playoffs.

Dunkleberger’s familiarity with the team and what was needed from the bench made for a smooth transition, Letizia said.

“He’s always been like another coach,” Letizia said. “Obviously his primary focus was equipment manager for a while, but over the past three or four seasons, in different and various capacities, he stepped up and filled the assistant coaching role.”

Having joined the team in 2014, Dunkleberger’s contributions to the team and the NAHL have been numerous: He served as equipment manager for the NAHL Top Prospects and Robertson Cup events, while also traveling to Sochi, Russia, in 2019 to participate in the Junior Club World Cup as a part of Team NAHL.

It all comes as a part of Dunkleberger’s willingness to do whatever is asked of him, Letizia said.

“His work ethic is incredible,” Letizia said. “His dedication to the team is incredible.

“He’s a guy who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

“I think he really evolved this past year in his new role as assistant coach, helping the staff and helping the players. I think he’s only going to get better at it. We kind of sat down and looked at things and said: ‘All things considered, I think this is the time to allow him to focus on being a coach.’ He earned it, I think he deserves it.

“Now we’ve got to find someone who can fill the void that he left in another very important aspect of our team.”

What Dunkleberger will fill as the assistant coach will mainly fall into scouting and recruiting. Having already developed a close working relationship with the Tomahawks’ bench boss, Dunkleberger sees that as a key cog in maintaining efficiency for the team on and off the ice.

“Mike and I are very close,” Dunkleberger said. “We worked together a little bit before the Tomahawks. I was just getting out of college when he took the head coaching job. We’re always on the same page.

“Our friendship’s built closer throughout the years. It’s pretty cool. He and I are always on the same page. We have the same outlook involving the team, players and how we want to do things. That just makes coming to work a lot of fun and it makes life easier.”

A graduate of Greater Johns- town High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johns- town, Dunkleberger was a part of the Johnstown Chiefs’ equipment staff for two seasons before the franchise relocated to South Carolina in 2010.

Being able to stay active in his hometown’s hockey scene has been a big part of the 30-year-old’s ongoing dream-come-true career path.

“It’s very exciting,” Dunkleberger said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work in my hometown fulfilling a dream by working in hockey. Now, I’ll be coaching at a pretty high level of junior hockey in my hometown with a lot of my friends and family being right there.”

Both Letizia and Dunkleberger noted that the focus has been, and continues to be, on a compressed offseason caused by the later-than-usual start for the 2020-21 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With all signs pointing toward dropping the puck in mid-September, the NAHL’s usual starting time, the Tomahawks will be busy in the coming weeks.

“We basically finished up (the season) and then we were on the road with camps pretty quickly,” Letizia said. “We did two camps in Michigan and Minnesota, and now we’re headed to Vegas for a pre-draft camp that starts on Friday.

“Then we have our draft next Wednesday, then main camp in Johnstown on July 24. Then training camp is going to start at the end of August.

“For all of us, it’s been an extremely short offseason.”

Shawn Curtis is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnCurtis430.

Shawn Curtis is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5085. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnCurtis430.​

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