JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The Johnstown Tomahawks’ defense and goaltender Sam Evola came up big in the final minutes Saturday night to preserve a 3-2 victory over the Northeast Generals at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
Johnstown led 3-1 in the third period before Northeast closed the gap to one at 8:51 on Matt Despirt’s first goal of the season. The Generals subsequently put the pressure on the Tomahawks in the last minute and a half of play with a flurry of scoring chances in the Johnstown zone. However, a gritty effort by the Tomahawks defenders laying out and blocking shots combined with clutch saves by Evola allowed Johnstown to hold on and complete the sweep of the weekend series.
“When they pulled the goalie and had the extra man, you knew they were going to be coming,” said Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia, whose 9-6-2 squad moved into a third-place tie with the Generals (10-10-0) in the NAHL East Division standings.
“They’re a good hockey team, and they never went away. We had our hands full, but were able to do the job.”
Evola stopped 26 of 28 Northeast shots and boosted his record to 6-4-1 on the season.
“Sammy did a nice job in there. It was nice to see him get back on the winning track,” Letizia said.
The Tomahawks controlled the pace of play in the early going, as Johnstown outshot the Generals 18-7 in the first period. However, the Tomahawks were only able to put one goal on the board.
Johnny Ulicny chipped in a shot from the left of the crease for his sixth goal of the year on assists by David Matousek and Cole Bianchin to make it 1-0 at 12:04, and that margin held throughout a scoreless second period despite the Generals outshooting Johns- town 9-2 in the frame.
Johnstown took a two-goal lead 2:18 into the third when Stephen Kyrkostas took a cross-ice pass from Braedon Ford and ripped one from the right circle to find the net for the seventh time this season.
The Generals finally solved Evola at the 6:42 mark of the third when Ryan Gordon put home a rebound with Paul Minnehan and Jared Scott picking up assists, but it took the Tomahawks just 29 seconds to get that score back.
Matousek netted his fifth goal of the year when he tapped in a feed from Ulicny to make it 3-1. Bianchin notched his second assist of the night on the play.
“We were working hard on offense and defense,” Matousek said. “We blocked shots and played hard on the boards.”
That set the stage for the dramatic finish. Northeast outshot Johnstown 12-6 in the decisive final period, but the Tomahawks’ defense made plays when it counted.
“We did a good job of blocking shots and working without the puck,” Letizia said. “They had some line rushes, but we were able to have some big back checks and broke some plays up.”
“It wasn’t perfect, but our work ethic and ability to play the right way was much improved this weekend.”
The Tomahawks will host Danbury in a two-game series next Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.