The Johnstown Tomahawks will get their top two offensive players back for this weekend’s series with the Michigan Warriors but will lose one of their most important defensive ones.
Forwards Casey Linkenheld and Trevor Recktenwald, who rank first and second respectively in points for the team this season, are expected to play in Friday night’s game. Goaltender Ryan Bednard, who has played in 37 of the team’s 52 games, will not.
“An illness is going to keep him out for the a few weeks,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said of Bednard, who some are projected as a fourth-round pick in June’s NHL draft. “We got some news today that it might not be as long as we thought. We have Jake Gwillim, who has been good for us all year. I’m fully confident that he’s going to be able to do what he needs to.”
Gwillim is 6-3 with a 3.41 goals-against average in 15 games with the Tomahawks this season. He spent much of the season with Muskegon of the United States Hockey League.
The Tomahawks recalled associated player Nick DeSimmone, who who his only start for the Tomahawks on Nov. 9 against Michigan.
“We know he’s capable of winning in this league,” Letizia said. “He did already when he played for us back in November. He’s going to be ready if he’s called upon.”
Whichever goalie is in net will likely be glad to have Linkenheld (21 goals, 18 assists) and Recktenwald (14 goals, 23 assists) back in the lineup. Linkenheld missed the past four games with an upper-body injury while Recktenwald has been sidelined for almost a month.
Despite the absence of Linkenheld and Recktenwald, the Tomahawks have won two of their past three games and earned at least a point in five of six games.
“You never want to lead your two leading scorers at any point in the season, but it gave some other guys an opportunity for an expanded role, and a lot of guys took advantage of it,” Letizia said.
The line of Alex Alger, who was acquired in a trade last month, Tanner Barnes and Zac Robbins has been very productive. In the past six games, Alger and Robbins each have 13 points while Barnes has nine.
“They’re three really skilled plyers that like to move the puck,” Letizia said. “They’re really exciting to watch. They’re that line that stepped up offensively. It’s nice to see them step up and it helps our offensive game as a whole.”
Letizia will look for continued production from that line this weekend in an important series. The Tomahawks are currently in position to claim the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL North Division. They have 54 points – five more than fourth place Michigan and seven more than sixth-place Springfield – and two games in hand. They trail third-place Keystone by three points and are just four back of second-place Soo.
“With the games we have remaining, all the teams are battling for playoff spots,” said Letizia, whose team has three games remaining at Keystone and three at home against Soo after this weekend. “It’s about playing the way we’ve been playing for a little bit. ... We’re already kind of in playoff mode. With Michigan right there, we know they’re going to be up for it and we’re going to be right there to match them.”
Michigan is riding a three-game winning streak, thanks in part to the play of former Tomahawk Peter Bates. The reigning North Division Star of the Week, Bates has three goals and five points in his past four games. He has seven goals and 13 points in 15 games with the Warriors after picking up just one goal and five points in 23 games with Johnstown.
“Batesy’s a really skilled hockey player,” Letizia said. “He’s very smart on the ice. With the numbers here, it was really a numbers situation. Fortunately, for him, he’s done a good job for them. He’s been able to make the most of his opportunities.
“We’re going to have to make sure we’re tight on him. if you give him space to make plays, he’s pretty skilled and crafty and he can make plays.”