Almost as soon as the Johnstown Tomahawks’ record-breaking 2018-19 season concluded, a glaring question arose.

“Who will handle the goaltending duties in 2019-20?”

The Tomahawks lost a lot of offensive firepower and more than a few quality defensemen from a 47-win, 98-point team that advanced to the North American Hockey League Robertson Cup semifinal round in Blaine, Minnesota.

But having two stellar goaltenders advance to the college ranks created an all-important vacancy to be filled during the recruiting season.

Former Tomahawks netminders Carter McPhail (29-3-2) and Cooper Lukenda (15-4-2) combined for 44 wins last season. McPhail committed to NCAA Division I Ferris State University and Lukenda to Division III St. Olaf University.

Enter, the Tomahawks’ Garden State Goaltending Connection.

Evan Szary, 19, of Morristown, New Jersey, started against the U.S. National Under-17 Development Team on Saturday night at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

The speedy, talented and polished Team USA squad used a three-goal second period to pull away from the Tomahawks 5-1.

Matt Sankner, 19, of Pennington, New Jersey, is scheduled to start against the U.S. National squad in another exhibition game at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

“They’re both agile,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said. 

“What I like about both of them is they’re super competitive. They battle on every puck.

“They never give up on any play.”

Szary stopped 23 shots on goal during a game in which the U.S. National squad used quickness and a few odd-man rushes to overmatch the host team. The 5-foot-11 goalie played last season with the New Jersey Hitmen of the National Collegiate Developmental Conference.

Sankner split last season with the Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League and the Lone Star Brahmas in the NAHL.

“It was a great experience,” Sankner said. 

“I didn’t get to play too much because I was much younger than my teammates were. But I definitely learned a lot and I’m ready to take a bigger role this year and contribute and do what I know I can do.”

Sankner won three games in the USHL and two in the NAHL last season, but said he benefited from competing with prospects, both during practices and games.

“I was practicing with some NHL Draft picks,” Sankner said. “Almost the whole team was committed (to colleges). I think it really helps you prepare for when you do play.”

Tomahawks goaltending coach Nick Mish said the tandem brings intensity and plenty of potential.

“Their angles are great,” said Mish, a former state champion goaltender at Bishop McCort High School who played Junior hockey in British Columbia. “They have an extremely high compete level.”

The two Tomahawks goalies previously had played against each other. Now, they’re guarding the same net.

“Evan and I have known each other for quite some time now,” Sankner said. “We’re both from New Jersey. We both grew up playing against each other. We’ve both gone to the same goalie coach (George Bosak) for quite a few years.

“It’s been great to have Evan here and to be partners with him. We work together on the ice and help each other out. It’s been fun to train with him.”

Sankner also has one more talent he could bring to the ice. A YouTube video shows him delivering a solid rendition of the national anthem before one of his Selects Academy at South Kent games in February 2018.

“i’ve always been really into music,” said Sankner, who sings bass. “I used to play the cello a lot growing up. I got into singing. 

“My mom is an opera singer.

“I got the opportunity at our senior night at South Kent prep school to sing the national anthem in my gear before the game. How many times in your life do you get to do that?”

USA, USA: The United States National Under-17 Development Team might be youthful, but the talent level on the ice at 1st Summit Arena was apparent on Saturday.

Chaz Lucius and Dylan Duke each had two goals, and Sasha Pastujov had a short-handed tally. Goalies Gibson Homer and Kaidan Mbereko turned away 28 shots until the Tomahawks Bennett Stockdale scored on a break with 27.7 seconds remaining in the game.

Ryan St. Louis, the son of former 16-year NHL star Martin St. Louis, assisted on Duke’s first goal at 6:49 of the second period.

St. Louis was among four sons of former NHL players on the Team USA Under-17 roster. The others were: Caden Brown, son of Jeff Brown (13 NHL seasons); Redmon Savage, son of Brian Savage (12 NHL seasons); and Tyler Boucher, son of Brian Boucher (13 NHL seasons).

The development team had 19 players committed to major college programs such as Boston University, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, University of Notre Dame, Northeastern University, University of Denver, and Miami (Ohio) University.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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