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24 in 24 Series: Johnstown Tomahawks

August 28, 2014
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2014-15 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 12th as six NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night.  24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2014-15 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team.  It will also take a look back on the 2013-14 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
 
Johnstown Tomahawks
 
Head Coach: Mike Letizia (1st year)
2013-14 record: 28-27-5, 61 pts. (4th in the North Division)
2013-14 leading scorer: Shane Bednard (60 GP, 19 G, 32 A, 51 pts, +12)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in the North Division Semi-Finals to the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, 3 games to 0
2014-15 Division: North
First regular season game: Saturday, September 13th @ Keystone Ice Miners, 7:30pm
Home opener: Saturday, October 25th vs. Keystone Ice Miners, 7:00pm
 
The Johnstown Tomahawks had a roller coaster of a season last year. It began by going winless at the NAHL Showcase, was highlighted by some tremendous play following the Showcase and into the middle of the season and was completed with a topsy-turvy end to the regular season. The Tomahawks sweated it out until the very end of the season and made it into the playoffs by one point over Springfield. Although Port Huron was the heavy favorite in their opening round series, the Tomahawks gave the Fighting Falcons everything they had, but in the end, they were swept in three games, losing each of the three games by just a goal including one in overtime. Although it wasn’t the outcome the Tomahawks wanted, the team did have a solid year with nine NCAA commitments and had another great year at the box office, finishing third in the NAHL in attendance.
 
However, the winds of change blew through Johnstown in the off-season as the contract for head coach Jason Spence was not renewed. After an extensive coaching search that took over a month the Tomahawks found their man as they stayed within the organization and hired assistant coach Mike Letizia as their new head coach moving forward for the 2014-15 season. “Mike’s vision for this team was exactly where we wanted our organization to go moving forward," Team President Rick Bouchard said. "His work ethic towards scouting and developing our players for the next level has been tremendous, and his loyalty and passion for both the organization and the Greater Johnstown community really set him apart.”
 
Letizia was front and center and in the trenches last season and said that first and foremost that it was a learning experience. “It was good to see some guys get some NCAA commitments and move onto the next levels of hockey. I thought we were much more focused the first half of the season. Although it is good to make the playoffs, I think everyone felt a sense of disappointment going out in the first round for the second straight season,” said Letizia. “It was really rewarding to see the management group stay within the organization and have faith in my abilities. I feel like there is still some unfinished business here and the team’s success is a work in progress. I want to continue to try and develop players to move onto the next level and instill a work ethic in them that is going to make us successful on the ice and hopefully put us in a position to win a Championship.”
 
Letizia said that with the losses of players like Shane Bednard and Matthew Meier to the NCAA, and the loss of other key players like Mitch Hall, Brandon Reinholz and Jordan Watt, he definitely had some holes to fill when constructing a team. Johnstown’s top seven scorers from a year ago are gone, so that was the first thing that Letizia wanted to address. “We had to find some guys who could come in and be impact players right away. I also wanted guys that had the right kind of character and work ethic. I think we found some guys that know how to win and can handle the rigors of the NAHL.”
 
The Tomahawks return veteran forward Trevor Recktenwald, who Letizia expects to have a big year and take the next step in his development. The club also picked up forward Cam Bleck in the off-season from the Coulee Region Chill. Bleck had 11 goals and 22 points for the Chill last season and adds offensive depth to the line-up. “I think both Trevor and Cam are both hungry to step in and be impact players and our go-to scorers. They both have a burning desire to win and this will be the last year of junior hockey for both, so I am hopeful they turn that into an opportunity to really be our leaders on offense,” said Letizia. As for some new faces on offense, Letizia mentioned Zac Robbins from Team Illinois and Dalton Hunter from the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite.
 
If there is an area of strength for the Tomahawks to begin this season, it is along the blueline. The Tomahawks return veteran blueliners Dakoda Menslage, Shane Cuckovich, Alex Jaeckle and Jake Houston. “They all have a commitment to hockey, both on and off the ice. They have created a culture that promotes success and doing the right thing in this community,” said Letizia. “I think they are all respected by their teammates and will provide that veteran presence in the lockerroom that is so valuable to a team.”
 
In goal, the Tomahawks have a good problem to have, which are three very capable and good goalies. Brett Young is the lone returner, although he played sparingly in only seven games last season. Letizia is very optimistic about his two rookies, one of which is Ryan Bednard. Bednard was just named to the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game and is a 17-year-old with what appears to be unlimited potential. The other is Jacob Gwillim, who played for the Lansing Capitals in the NAPHL last season and was an All-NAPHL 18U 3rd Team selection. “I am very encouraged about our goaltending situation. All three have the ability to be starters in this league and with an experienced defensive group in front of them, I think it will give them the opportunity to succeed.”
 
Letizia said that he would like to see his club start stronger and be more consistent this year. “I think if we can take it one practice and one game at a time, the rest will fall into place, but at the end of the day we want to being a Championship to Johnstown.”
 
Next up in the NAHL 24 in 24 series: Kenai River Brown Bears, August 29th 
 
 
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