It only was the final game in an abbreviated exhibition season, but Sean Bauchens still savored his status as No. 1 star in the Johnstown Tomahawks’ 6-4 victory over the U.S. National Under-17 Development Program squad on Sunday afternoon.
Bauchens had a breakaway goal, two assists and drew a couple penalties in front of a small crowd at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
Of more significance was Bauchens’ dedication and persistance.
The 20-year-old from Brooklyn, Ohio, certainly earned his opportunity after sticking with the ’Hawks despite only seeing the ice in three games during the team’s record-breaking 2018-19 North American Hockey League season.
“Last year I didn’t get as much playing time as I wanted but I wasn’t going to let it affect me,” Bauchens said after Sunday’s game.
“I just was a good teammate throughout the year and did what everyone asked me to do. I worked my butt off to get to this point.
“Now I’m here. It feels amazing.”
Actually, Bauchens first joined the Tomahawks as a late addition who appeared in two games and had an assist in 2017-18.
He had one goal in three games last year but mostly was among the players who put in the time at practice and team functions but were scratches on game nights. The Tomahawks won 47 games and earned 98 points on the way to the Robertson Cup semifinal round in Blaine, Minnesota.
“There are not a lot of guys that would have done what ‘Bauchs’ did last year,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said. “We called him up for two games the previous season (2017-18) and he had a point. Last season he started off and had a pretty good training camp.
“He got hurt in the one game against Team USA, so he kind of fell behind a little bit.”
Meanwhile, players such as Carson Briere, Samuel Solensky, Oliver Benwell and Cameron Hebert emerged as mainstays at the forward position last season.
“We started establishing some lines and we found some success so it was tough to get him in there,” Letizia said. “But he kept battling and battling.
“He was unbelievable in practice. Off the ice he was an unbelievable teammate.
“I think there is nobody we were hoping to have success more than him after what he showed us and his loyalty. Anybody could have just flew the coop and left. At the time, he wanted to stay and be a part of what we had.”
Now, Bauchens is one of nine returnees as the Tomahawks prepare for the regular-season opener Friday at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights.
Letizia still must make a few roster moves to finalize his lineup.
“Finishing with a ‘W’ obviously is good for our psyche,” said Letizia, whose ’Hawks lost 5-1 to Team USA on Saturday.
“Today we had a little more grit, a little more fire and we scored some more goals. Coming out of this one you have some things we see we can do better. We had some things we did well. Now we have to get ready for Friday night when it really counts.”
Team USA’s Ethan Straky put a rebound past goalie Matt Sankner 5:43 into the game, but Johnstown veteran Christian Gorscak evened the score at 8:19.
Team USA’s Jeremy Wilmer and Johnstown’s Adam Kolcon traded goals. Bauchens assisted on Kolcon’s tally with 43 seconds left in a 2-all first period.
Bauchens also set up Nick Martino’s goal 1:22 into the middle frame. Carson Grainer made it 4-2 before Team USA’s Chaz Lucius scored at 8:20.
Johnstown’s Jesse Lycan converted a power play at 16:15 of the second, and Bauchens scored 6:05 into the third to make it 6-3.
“I got it off the breakaway,” Bauchens said. “I heard my coach say, ‘Wheel,’ from the bench as he always does when I get those. I knew I had to score. Luckily it went in.”
Ty Gallagher got Team USA within two goals at 8:18, but Sankner (24 saves) was solid the rest of the way.
“What I took away from last season is that if we play as a team we’re going to win every game,” Bauchens said. “If we play to win every game, then we’re going to go far like we did last year.”