Jay Ahearn, John Gelatt

Johnstown Tomahawks forwards Jay Ahearn, bottom, and John Gelatt celebrate a goal by Ahearn during a North American Hockey League game against the Northeast Generals at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown, PA., Friday, Jan.1, 2021.

Through two periods on Friday, the Johnstown Tomahawks and Northeast Generals engaged in a competitive contest during a rare New Year’s afternoon date played minus any fans at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

Then, the Tomahawks netted a pair of goals 13 seconds apart and quickly added another to make it three scores in 55 seconds during what eventually became a four-goal third period. Another rout was on as Johnstown beat Northeast 6-0 and outscored the Generals 14-0 in two holiday games.

The Tomahawks (10-3-3) moved into first place in the NAHL East Division with 23 points. Johnstown passed idle Maine (11-6-0), with 22 points.

“Our second period wasn’t how we were supposed to be playing,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said of his disappointment even though his team held a 2-0 lead at the second intermission. “I don’t think we played the game the right way. We got away from it. We played with fire a little bit.

“They had some good chances (in the second period). Fortunately Sammy (Evola) made some huge saves for us. I was pretty hard on the boys before the third and challenged them to make sure they played the right way.”

The Tomahawks did.

Forward Jay Ahearn completed his hat trick with a goal only 13 seconds after Holt Oliphant had netted his third of the season at 6:49 of the final period. Suddenly, it was 4-0.

Then forward John Gelatt maintained his torrid pace with a goal at 7:44, his 14th of the year, to push the margin to five. Will Margel netted his first goal of the season at 12:38 to close the scoring.

Goaltender Evola picked up his second shutout in as many days and improved to 8-1-1 after making 23 saves.

“We were super excited to play, obviously, getting back after 2 1/2 weeks off,” Evola said. “We were ready to play and it showed on the ice.”

The Tomahawks led 2-0 after one period thanks to goals by Ahearn at 7:21 and 9:59.

But Northeast pressured Johnstown and outshot the 'Hawks 12-9 in the second period. Evola turned away several solid scoring chances.

“I was struggling at the beginning of the season, just not finishing games,” Evola said. “I’ve been having great periods but I haven’t been able to put together a good game. That just felt really good (winning Friday and Saturday).

“My defense, I’m making all of the easy saves. This is not really all me. The team is playing awesome in front of me.”

Ahearn and Gelatt each had two goals and two assists in an 8-0 win over the Generals on New Year’s Eve.

Ahearn had five goals and seven points in two games against Northeast. Gelatt, who leads the team with 14 goals and 24 points, had three goals and six points in the same span. Ahearn is second overall with nine goals and 22 points.

“I think we had a great week of practice and coach Mike got the boys going,” Ahearn said. “We played simple. We got the dirty goals. We played our game. That’s all we can do.”

Ahearn said Letizia’s locker room chat sparked the team. The Tomahawks outshot the Generals 22-5 in the final period.

“He told us to stick to our game, go get them,” Ahearn said. “We were playing great the whole game, I think. We had a few minutes in the second period where we got away from ourselves.

“But we kept playing our game. The goals would come. We knew that. We stuck to it and got a few in the third.”

Ahearn credited Gelatt and Brendan Clark for his point surge.

“I couldn’t do it without my linemates, the defensemen, getting pucks through and getting great passes,” Ahearn said.

The Tomahawks will play the United States National Team Developmental Program U-18 team at noon on Monday. Fans will be permitted to attend and the game is free.

Johnstown’s homestand is scheduled to continue next Friday and Saturday against the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks, but the Connecticut team hasn’t played a game since Nov. 5. 

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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