The Johnstown Tomahawks needed a complete effort to shut out the Soo Eagles 3-0 on Friday night at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Power play? Three of eight. Check.
Penalty kill? Perfect on eight Soo advantages, including a pair of 5-on-3s. Check.
Scoring? Zac Robbins converted a power play early in the first, and Tanner Barnes scored with only :04 left in the period. Alex Jaeckle provided third-period insurance. Check.
Goaltending? Nick DeSimmone stopped all 32 shots he faced until an injury forced him out with 5:57 to play. Jake Gwillim finished the shutout with three saves. Check. Check.
“This is a huge weekend for us with three games at home,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said. “Our biggest concern right now is about ourselves and making sure we do the right things to be successful.”
The Tomahawks (56 points) moved three ahead of Michigan (53) after the Warriors lost 4-1 at Keystone on Friday. Johnstown has four games left in the regular season, and Michigan has three to play.
The Eagles and Tomahawks will meet again at 7 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the War Memorial.
The NAHL team will hold a food drive and present Hockeyville posters featuring all-time Johnstown hockey greats to participating fans.
The only negative for Johnstown was the loss of forward Josh Bowes, who was helped off the ice after a big hit near the blue line during a 5-on-3 penalty kill, and DeSimmone, who was injured while diving to make a save in traffic near the post.
“You’ve just got to pick each other up and keep moving on,” Gwillim said.
“Injuries happen. It’s part of the game. If a guy falls off, you’ve got to pick up the rope and start pulling harder for him.”
The Tomahawks’ power play clicked in the opening period as Robbins netted his 12th goal of the season at 7:39.
“The first goal is always huge, especially on special teams,” Robbins said. “After the first goal, if it’s a quick one, the team really gets motivated.”
Barnes scored his 10th with only 4 seconds remaining in the period.
“Huge goal,” Letizia said. “It’s a big difference 1-0 to 2-0.”
Soo outshot the Tomahawks 35-19, but DeSimmone and the defenders who blocked numerous shots kept the puck out of the net.
“Nicky played great,” Letizia said. “It was pretty fun to watch him. He kept the game in our favor, and then an unfortunate situation. Jake came in cold and faced a couple big shots and shut the door for us.”
Defenseman Jaeckle scored a power-play goal 1:54 into the third.
“Half the game was power play or penalty kill,” said Letizia, whose team successfully killed a Soo two-man advantage lasting 1:23 – allowing only one shot – and another 5-on-3 for only 14 seconds but with two defensive-zone face-offs.
“We’d rather play 5-on-5,” he said. “But credit to the guys. The blocked shots were incredible.”
Robbins had a goal and an assist.
“Zac has really come around for us,” Letizia said. “He battled some things early on as far as injuries. It was only a matter of time.
“He’s found some great chemistry with Alex Alger (one assist Friday) and Barnes (one goal).”
The offense complemented a solid tandem of DeSimmone and Gwillim.
“You’re always ready, but you expect something like that to happen in the first or second period,” Gwillim said of his late entrance.
“With five or six minutes left in the third, you’re not really expecting to go in. You put everything beside you and go out and do what you can for the team.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @masty81.