Max Neill

The Johnstown Tomahawks’ Max Neill (right) celebrates his first-period goal with his teammates against the Northeast Generals on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

The Johnstown Tomahawks navigated through a grueling weekend and continued a dominant run on home ice on Sunday afternoon.

The NAHL East Division-leading ’Hawks beat the Northeast Generals 3-1 to complete a three-game sweep in as many days at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial. Johnstown moved into sole possession of first place in the NAHL East Division.

Coach Mike Letizia’s team has won six in a row and is 10-1-0 in its past 11 contests overall, passing the Maine Nordiques by two points in the East.

The Tomahawks’ success on home ice is even more impressive. Johnstown is 11-0-1 at 1st Summit Arena this season.

“It’s amazing playing here,” said Tomahawks forward Max Neill, who opened the scoring in the first period with a goal on his 20th birthday. “I think we get a better hockey environment than any other junior program in the country. The fans are cheering every shot, every hit.

“It’s better here than anywhere else, because we have that hockey night in Johnstown feeling every night.”

The Tomahawks have scored the first goal in nine consecutive home games. In fact, Johnstown has tallied at least the first two goals in seven of those home dates and had 3-0 leads four times, including Sunday.

“It’s huge,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said of scoring first. “We want to take advantage of home ice where we can and make sure it’s a successful place for us. Getting the early lead, the energy has been a big bonus for us.”

The trend isn’t something new.

The Tomahawks were 27-3-0 at home during the 2018-19 regular season. Last season, Johnstown was 19-4-2 at 1st Summit Arena before COVID-19 wiped out the schedule in mid-March.

That translates into a 57-7-3 home mark during the regular season since 2018-19.

“It’s our home,” Letizia said of the War Memorial. “Something we’ve tried to instill in our guys since Day 1 is that this has to be an advantage for us. We’re in our own confines, our arena. There aren’t as many fans (because of COVID-19 restrictions) but there are some fans and we want to make sure to take any type of energy we can give our guys.”

Neill and Jay Ahearn, who netted his 17th goal on the power play, gave the Tomahawks a 2-0 lead through one period.

Reed Stark scored 4:15 into the second to stretch the margin.

“We’re doing all the little things right and being really consistent,” Neill said. “All of our lines are chipping in.”

Northeast’s lone goal came on Tyler Cooper’s penalty shot 12:57 into the third period, after a Tomahawks player covered the puck in the crease.

Johnstown goaltender Sam Evola stopped 25 shots and improved to 10-2-2.

The Tomahawks swept the Generals with a 6-2 win on Friday and a 4-3 victory on Saturday night.

“I think we get pushed pretty hard during the week and it pays off in the end,” Neill said. “We just have a great group of guys this year and a very deep group.” 

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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