JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – After dropping a pair of one-goal games at last week’s North American Hockey League Showcase, the Johnstown Tomahawks faced the possibility of a disastrous start to the franchise’s 10th anniversary.
Coach Mike Letizia’s team had two more games remaining at the Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Tomahawks didn’t waste the opportunity to rebound.
Sam Evola made 34 saves and four different players scored a goal in a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wilderness on Day 3, and Johnny Ulicny netted the game-winner with 24 seconds left in overtime in a 4-3 win over the Anchorage Wolverines on Saturday.
The new-look and mostly youthful Tomahawks will take a respectable 2-2-0 record to Attleboro, Massachusetts, for a pair of games against the Northeast Generals on Friday and Saturday.
“I think we saw growth at the Showcase, which was important,” Letizia said. “In our first two games, I felt we played well but fell short with some details and the hardness it takes. I believe that led to us being on the wrong side of two one-goal games.”
The Aberdeen Wings, who won a single-season record 51 games and had 103 points last season, edged the Tomahawks 4-3 in the season opener last Wednesday. The Kenai River Brown Bears won 2-1 in Thursday’s second game.
“Our third game was probably our best. We played hard, we played physical and we really sacrificed for each other,” Letizia said of the win over the Wilderness.
“In the final game, we showed a ton of resolve,” Letizia said. “(Our) fourth game in four days. Had a lead. Gave it up and trailed inside of 2 minutes, but tied it up and won in overtime. I think that type of win can hopefully build character.”
The Tomahawks had four different goal-scorers in each of their victories, a fact that pleased Letizia, who faced a major rebuild this offseason. The Tomahawks lost their top four scorers from a 39-10-5 team that won the East Division with 83 points. Those four players combined for 96 goals and 222 points.
Josh Graziano, who combined with Evola in net last season, also moved on after 2020-21.
That made the two wins that followed a pair of tightly contested, one-goal losses even more significant.
“I felt we had contributions from a lot of guys,” Letizia said. “But it’s hard to not look at Holt (Oliphant). As our captain, he led by example with work ethic, passion and production.
“Sammy (Evola) did a nice job rebounding after Wednesday with two real good wins over the Wilderness and Anchorage where he made a lot of great saves to backstop us to wins.”
Next up are the Generals. Then, the Tomahawks will host their home opener against the Maryland Black Bears on Oct. 2 at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
“Northeast is a team that really came on in the second half of the season and has had a good start to their season,” Letizia said of the Generals. “They have a lot of speed and weapons on offense. It’s going to be another tough test for us in the early going of our season.”
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.