Tomahawks vs. Danbury

Tomahawks' Holt Oliphant (20) scores the game-tying goal in the third period of the game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021 at 1st Summit Arena.

The Johnstown Tomahawks fell behind 6 minutes into the final period against the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks on Saturday night.

Trailing late at 1st Summit Arena isn’t a common occurrence for the Tomahawks – at least not during the current run of three strong NAHL seasons.

But coach Mike Letizia's team scored the final three goals, including an empty-netter, to beat the Jr. Hat Tricks 5-3 in front of an estimated 1,000 fans.

“It was gutsy,” Letizia said.

The Tomahawks recorded a pair of tight weekend wins over Danbury, including a 5-4 victory on Friday.

“These last two games were not the prettiest, but we are a pretty scrappy team,” Letizia said, "and sometimes you have to find different ways to win against different opponents."

The Jr. Hat Tricks opened the season 5-1-0 but hadn’t played since Nov. 5 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in their home state of Connecticut.

“They’re a good group for not playing in two months,” said Tomahawks forward Reed Stark, who netted the game-winner with 1:18 remaining. “They got better as time went on, but so did we.”

The Tomahawks’ power play produced two goals as Holt Oliphant and Alex Gritz made it 2-0. Daniel Tkac and Will Margel each assisted on both goals at 2:47 and 8:52 of the first period.

But Danbury quickly recovered with a pair of goals 39 seconds apart.

Jake Veri found the net at 11:14, and Alex Krause scored at 11:53 to suddenly tie the score at 2-all.

“Credit to our guys,” Letizia said. “We had the two-goal lead and they made it 2-2 pretty quick. I didn’t like that. It was back-and-forth in the second and both teams exchanged chances. In the third they got that goal to go ahead.”

Jake Hewitt gave Danbury a 3-2 lead 6:07 into the third period.

Oliphant tied it at 7:46.

“Holtsy had an outstanding game and a great weekend,” Letizia said of Oliphant. “Starky just had a good forecheck. Sometimes you just have to put it on the net.”

Stark found himself in front of the cage with an open shot. He took it.

“Just a good forecheck by the attacker. Caused a turnover,” Stark said. “I missed a couple in the slot today so I really just turned around to shoot. I pick my spots.”

Captain Alex Gritz beat the clock with a long, empty-net goal with 1.2 seconds remaining.

Tomahawks goaltender Peyton Grainer stopped 29 shots and improved to 3-1-0. Danbury’s Joshua Seeley had 33 saves and evened his record at 2-2-0.

“It’s a never-quit attitude in this group,” Stark said. “It’s preached. We get down, we go up. Really, we just never quit. It’s been working for us.”

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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