10th Anniversary Season - A Look Back
Written by: David Nicoletti
On May 3rd, 2012, it was announced that an NAHL hockey team would be coming to the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania giving the town its fourth-ever hockey team since the departure of the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs in April of 2010. Now the Johnstown Tomahawks are at the start of their tenth official season. Let's take a trip down memory lane and relive how we got here.
Before the Tomahawks came to Johnstown, the team was known as the Alaska Avalanche. Located in Wasilla, Alaska, a 7,831 populated city, which is the sixth-largest in Alaska. They would play their six NAHL seasons, starting in 2006-07, in an arena known as the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center. A 102,000 square foot multi-purpose arena, designed to accommodate up to 5,000 people.
The first two seasons of Avalanche hockey wouldn’t start off so hot, as Alaska would fail to make the playoffs in both seasons. They would end their inaugural season with a 16-39-7 record, following that up their second season with a 16-38-4 record, which would be the worst season for the Avalanche in their team's history.
The Avalanche would then start to turn it around the following season, as they finished third place in the West with a 23-30-5 record. Cinching the playoffs for the first time in team history, but would fall to the Wenatchee Wild three games to one in the first round. They would then go on to improve to a 32-19-7 second-place season the following year, only to be swept in the first round three games to none by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The last two seasons of Avalanche hockey would see Alaska finish third place in the West both times. Finishing 2010-11 with a 32-22-4 record, and 2011-12 with their best season at 35-19-6, I guess that’s why they say the last one is always the best one. However, they would lose in the Division Semifinals both times to the Wenatchee Wild, swept the first time, and losing three games to two the second time.
The Johnstown Tomahawks were then born in the North Division to kick off the 2012-13 NAHL season on September 8th, 2012. That season the Hawks would be led by top scorers such as Cody Gylling, Jordan Watt, and captain Mitch Kontny. They would also bring back that old-time hockey toughness that the city is well known for with guys like Jake Fairchild, Brandon Reinholz, and let's not forget, Johnstown native, Cody Boyd.
They would end their first season of hockey finishing fifth place with a 27-21-12 record, clinching the playoffs but losing in the play-in series to the Port Huron Fighting Falcons two games to one. They were named the 2012-13 NAHL Organization of the Year that offseason following their successful inaugural year. With many more achievements left to come down the road.
The Tomahawks would then return home to kick off their second season of hockey on September 14th, 2013. That season they would improve in the standings to finish fourth in the north with a 28-27-5 record. They would clinch a playoff berth once again but were swept in the Division Semifinals to the Port Huron Fighting Falcons.
That offseason, alternate captain defenseman Mitch Hall would be the first-ever Hawks player to be named to an All-Division Team. Ending his final junior season with six goals and 37 assists in 59 regular-season games. But the best hockey in Johnstown was still yet to come.
Johnstown would enter the 2014-15 season looking for vengeance after getting eliminated in the first round in back-to-back seasons. After two seasons of serving under Jason Spence, two-year assistant coach Mike Letizia would step in as the new head coach to kick off the season. They would finish the season fifth place in the North with a 25-27-8 record. This would sadly result in the Hawks coming up short and missing the playoffs for the first in team history.
That offseason, goaltender Ryan Bednard would be named to the All-NAHL Rookie 2nd Team, and defensemen Steven Quagliata would be named to the North Division All-Rookie Team. We would also get to see some history made a few months later, as Bednard would be the first-ever Hawks player to be drafted in the NHL. Ryan would go on to be drafted by the Florida Panthers in the seventh round (206th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
The 2015-16 season would see a whole new look to the lineup, and divisions, as the Tomahawks would be pretty much already guaranteed a playoff berth since the new East Division would only hold four teams. They would finish third place with a 31-24-5 record. They would sweep the New Jersey Titans in the Division Semifinals Round but would be swept by the Aston Rebels in the Division Finals, one step short of clinching their first Robertson Cup appearance.
Forwards Luke Lynch and Andrew Romano would be named to the All-East Division Team following their 56 point seasons. Lynch would win East Division Forward of the Year. While forward Drew Doyon would win the East Division Leadership Award.
Moving on to 2016-17, the East Division would improve to five teams, and Johnstown would improve to finish the year in second place. They would hold a record of 40-16-4, but would sadly be swept in the first round by the New Jersey Titans. Johnstown would end one of their best years as a franchise fourth place in the league out of the NAHL’s 24 teams.
Forwards Nick Bruce and Dalton Hunter were named to the All-East Division Team. Dalton Hunter would win East Division Forward of the Year. Rounding it out with forward Hayden Rowan, and defenseman Andy Iehle being named to the East Division All-Rookie Team.
After a successful season the following year, Johnstown would be back in 2017-18 hungry for more dominance. With talented young players such as Samuel Solensky, Roman Kraemer, Joe Kile, and many more, this team looked good. However, they would sadly go on to finish with the team's worst regular-season record of 23-33-4. Missing the playoffs for the second time in team history, ending what could’ve been such a dominant year.
That offseason, defenseman Nic Azarovitz would win the NAHL’s Apex Learning Virtual School Academic Achievement Award, and East Division Academic Achievement Award. To end it off, forward Roman Kraemer would be named to the East Division All-Rookie Team, following his 59 game regular season with 21 goals and 17 assists.
After missing the playoffs the following year, the Hawks came into 2018-19 with high expectations. This edition of the Tomahawks roster would be stacked full of young talented players. To name a few, Carson Briere, Cameron Hebert, Oliver Benwell, Hunter Toale, Alex Wilkins, Carter McPhail, all led by captain Chris Trouba, the list goes on and on, what more can I say.
The Hawks would finish the year with the best record in team history at 47-9-4. They would not only win the division for the first time ever, but they would win the NAHL Regular Season Championship, finishing as the best team in the league. What a year to be a Tomahawk!
Briere, Solensky, Hebert, and Benwell would finish the year as 70+ point scorers, 20+ goal scorers, and 40+ assists scorers. Led by the strong help of McPhail in net, ending the year 29-3-2, with a 2.12 GAA, and a 0.931 save percentage, along with a shutout. But the best was soon to come.
In the playoffs, Johnstown would get through the Northeast Generals in round one 3-2. They would then make their way past the New Jersey Titans 3-2 in round two to clinch the team into the Robertson Cup Semifinals for the first time ever in team history. But sadly this would be the end of the road to a dominant season, as the Hawks would fall one game short of the championship game to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 2-1 in the series.
Even though the Hawks fell short of their one goal, these boys had a lot to keep their heads high about. Coming this far and coming up short may hurt, but in the end, the city, the fans, and everyone was proud of this team with how far they’ve come. Knowing that sooner or later, they will be back to get what is theirs.
Lots of hardware and achievements would be given out that offseason. Carson Briere would be named to the All-NAHL 1st Team, while Samuel Solensky would be named to the All-NAHL 2nd Team. Mike Letizia would be named coach of the year, Rick Bouchard would be named Executive of the Year, and Johnstown would be named the Organization of the Year. But we ain’t done yet, Briere, Solensky, and Hunter Toale would all be named to the All-East Division Team.
Briere was named the East Division Most Valuable Player & Forward of the Year. Toale would also add the East Division Defenseman and Rookie of the Year award to his resume. East Division Coach & GM of the Year would go to Letizia, East Division Organization of the Year would go to Johnstown, and Andrew Murphy would win the East Division Academic Achievement Award.
To end it out, Toale would be named to the All-NAHL Rookie 1st Team. As well as the East Division All-Rookie Team. Ending out one of the most dominant hockey seasons in the city of Johnstown, a season that will forever be one to remember.
The next season would be a test for the Johnstown Tomahawks. Losing most key players from the roster from the previous year, Johnstown would have a lot of puzzle pieces to put together if they would want to have any chance of getting back to where they left off from the year before.
With returning pieces like Christian Gorscak, Bennett Stockdale, and Chris Trouba, alongside new faces like Max Kouznetsov, Carson Gallagher, Malik Alishlalov, and Alex Tracy. The Johnstown Tomahawks were ready and up for the challenge for whatever 2019-20 will bring to them.
The Hawks would start the year off on a little rough patch, a scary neck injury to captain Chris Trouba in November would have a lot of people wondering what’s next for the Tomahawks. Is this the end of the road already? Or is this the beginning of something special? Lots of questions without answers, but it wouldn’t slow down the Hawks from going after what's theirs.
They would start to come together and bring home win after win. Lots of people halfway through would say that this could finally be the Tomahawks season to win it all. They would clinch the playoffs in March of 2020, but sadly, a few short days later, COVID-19 would affect the NAHL season. This would result in the season going on a pause, which would then ultimately result in the rest of the season being canceled.
Johnstown would finish second place in the East, and sixth in the league with a 34-13-4 record.
Like the previous year, a good set of hardware would be coming home to Johnstown from the NAHL. Christian Gorscak was named to the All-NAHL 1st Team. He would also bring home the NAHL Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year award, the first-ever Tomahawk in team history to win the award. Rick Bouchard would win Executive of the Year once again, and Chris Trouba would win the league's Leadership Award.
Gorscak and Alex Tracy were named to the All-East Division Team. Gorscak would also bring home East Division Most Valuable Player & Forward of the Year. Tracy would bring home the East Division Goaltender and Rookie of the Year. Trouba would also take home the East Division Leadership Award.
Defensemen Malik Alishlalov was named to the All-NAHL Rookie 2nd Team. He would also be named to the East Division All-Rookie Team, alongside goaltender Alex Tracy.
Finally, 2020-21, our most recent season of Tomahawks hockey. This edition of the Johnstown Tomahawks would see a whole new look to the lineup with a couple of returnees. But like previous years, Johnstown was ready for the competition ahead of them.
Johnstown would kick off the year on a little bit of a back-and-forth win-and-loss kind of deal. But like always, they would come together as a team, and that’s when the magic would start to happen. A 17 home game win streak would be one of many achievements that the Hawks would bring home. Led by the young talented players of Jay Ahearn, John Gelatt, Brendan Clark, and Will Margel. To boot with a solid goaltender duo of Sam Evola and Josh Graziano.
This edition of the Johnstown Tomahawks definitely showed that they have guys who can not only go out and bring toughness but can go out and score when the time is needed. In the end, they clinched the playoffs by finishing first in the East, and second in the league, with a 39-10-5 record. This team looked unstoppable and ready to go for the playoffs.
However, the plan sadly wouldn’t go accordingly, and Johnstown would lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Maryland Black Bears in five games. Ending Johnstown’s successful season of what could’ve had a lot left to prove. But the fans were still thankful for their team with everything they’ve done along the way.
Jay Ahearn would be named to the All-NAHL 1st Team following the season. He would also bring home the Rookie of the Year following his 31 goals, 31 assists season in 52 regular-season games, second-best in the NAHL.
Ahearn, Margel, and Ryan Poorman would be named to the All-East Division Team. Ahearn would also take home East Division Most Valuable Player, Forward of the Year, and Rookie of the Year. Head coach Mike Letizia would take home the East Division Coach of the Year.
To wrap it all up, Ahearn and Clark were named to the All-NAHL Rookie 1st Team. As well as the East Division All-Rookie Team, alongside defensemen Max Smolinski.
Alongside many NAHL Top Prospects, and many NCAA committed athletes throughout the years, the Johnstown Tomahawks will definitely go down as one of the most successful franchises not only in the NAHL, but in junior hockey.
It’s crazy to think that the 10th season of Tomahawks hockey is just right around the corner. It still only feels like yesterday when Penguins legend Mario Lemieux came to Johnstown to drop the ceremonial first puck during the Tomahawks home opener in their inaugural season. Lots of ups and downs and crazy memories along the way.
If you don’t believe me, we asked HAWKS NATION about what their favorite memories were throughout the time the Hawks have called Johnstown home. Coming up in several posts throughout the year we'll be posting the fan's favorite moments from these past ten years, in their own words.
Want to share your favorite memories with us? See the infographic below to see what we're looking for, and more!