On the back of a stellar goaltending performance from David Tomeo and a two-goal night from Spencer DenBeste, the Johnstown Tomahawks battled back from an early deficit to defeat the Northeast Generals 3-2 on Friday evening.
“We’ll take the two points,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said. “Tonight wasn’t our best effort, but in a three-in-three you know it’s going to be tough and you have to find ways to win.”
For most of the opening period of play, the Tomahawks controlled the game, but only after a less-than-ideal start. Less than 2 minutes into the contest, the visiting Generals struck first to open the scoring and take an early lead.
Off a mad scramble in front of Tomeo, Generals leading goal scorer Joseph Mancuso was standing right on the doorstep and in perfect position to tap a loose puck into the net, putting the visitors in front 1-0 just 1:44 into the game.
“I don’t think we had our feet moving for a while at the start of the game,” Letizia said. “We were playing slow in a lot of ways and got what we deserved.”
Whatever was missing from the Tomahawks’ game at the start suddenly found its way into their system after the early Generals tally. The goal woke up the Tomahawks as they began pushing back for an equalizer right away. They had to wait for that tying goal to eventually arrive, but they controlled play and showed signs that a breakthrough was on the horizon.
Consistent pressure from the Tomahawks in the offensive zone forced the Generals to play on the back foot and wait for opportunities to go forward and try to build on their early lead. Since the Tomahawks were pushing aggressively with the puck, this opened the door the Generals to create some odd-man opportunities the other way. That’s where Tomeo came to the rescue on more than one occasion in the first period.
With the offense pushing for an equalizer, Tomeo stared down a handful of Generals odd-man rushes and came away with the save every time to keep the deficit at just one goal. Tomeo delivered a pair of stretching pad saves to deny the Generals along with a desperation save on a wraparound attempt that stopped the puck on the goal line.
Letizia praised his starter’s play after the game.
“He was rock solid tonight and he made some really timely saves on some deadly chances,” Letizia said. “I thought he controlled the game for us and was there when he needed him.”
When the horn sounded to end the first period, the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of the Generals, but the Tomahawks’ heavy pushback pulled some momentum back to their side and it paid off in the second period.
Much like the Generals in the opening period, the Tomahawks struck early in the second to bring the game level.
Carson Gallagher made a terrific individual play off the end boards to free himself and create a one-on-one with goaltender Joey Stanizzi. Gallagher’s initial try was stopped, but he recovered and lifted a shot over Stanizzi’s outstretched pad for the tying goal.
Shortly after Gallagher’s tying marker, the Tomahawks went to the power play when the Generals were whistled for tripping. It was a difficult night for the Tomahawks’ man advantage, going 0-for-5, but in this case, they were able to grind out a go-ahead goal just as the penalty expired and before the Generals could get their fifth skater back into the action. Christian Gorscak picked the pocket of a Generals defender attempting to clear the puck and slid a pass over to a wide-open DenBeste, who deposited it past Stanizzi for a 2-1 Tomahawks lead.
“We finally had some zone time and got it behind their defense and won some puck battles,” said Letizia.
Like the Tomahawks when they were trailing early in the game, it was the Generals turn to dig a little deeper, now trailing for the first time on the evening. It took some time but in the waning moments of the second period the Generals found an answer to bring the sides level after 40 minutes. Dylan Schuett uncorked a wicked wrist shot from the slot that went out of the net just as fast as it went in, giving Tomeo no time to react, and the Generals were back square.
Much like he did in the first period with the Tomahawks trailing, Tomeo once again came up big when his team needed him most. With the score knotted at 2-2 early in the third period, Tomeo delivered a pair of stellar saves on 10-bell chances from the Generals to keep the game level and put his team in position to scratch out a victory.
Just short of the midway point in the final period of play, Spencer DenBeste joined teammate Tomeo in playing the role of hero. Off a feed from captain Chris Trouba, DenBeste found himself with a Grade-A chance in front of goal.
A slight fake sent Stanizzi sprawling to the ice, giving DenBeste the entire net to shoot at. DenBeste calmly lifted the puck over Stanizzi and found twine to put the Tomahawks back in front 3-2 with 10 minutes to play.
With time ticking down, the Tomahawks defense rose to the occasion and closed the game down.
Doing their best to keep shots from the outside and the lanes in front of Tomeo clear, the Tomahawks withstood a late push from the Generals to seal a come-from-behind victory and claim two points over their division rival.