NA Now: Johnstown Tomahawks
The NA Now series features a look at all teams in the NAHL for the 2020-21 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team and will include video segments with all the head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Mike Letizia (7th Year)
2019-20 record: 51 GP, 34-13-4, 72 pts. (2nd in the East Division)
2019-20 leading scorer: Christian Gorscak (64 points)
2020-21 Division: East
When the 2019-20 season abruptly ended in early March, the hottest team in the NAHL was the Johnstown Tomahawks. Johnstown had won eight straight games and nine out of their last 10 and had cut the New Jersey Titans lead in the division down to just five points when the season finished.
“It was tough for us as a team. The weekend that it ended, we were expecting our captain Chris Trouba to be back from a long injury. We felt really good about where we were in the season and we were playing well and getting healthy. I felt bad for our players who aged out because many of them had some unfinished business from the Robertson Cup in 2019 when we were one win away from being in the Championship game,” said Tomahawks head coach Mike Letizia.
The Tomahawks were successful in a wide variety of areas last season, which extended to both ends of the ice. They ranked 6th in scoring at 3.63 goals per game thanks in large part to forward and NAPHL grad Christian Gorscak who tied for the NAHL scoring title with 64 points and was named the NAHL’s Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year.
Defensively, the Tomahawks were almost just as good, ranking 8th in goals allowed at a 2.75 clip. That was thanks in large part to players like Team NAHL defenseman and Johnstown captain Chris Trouba, who despite an injury that took him out for the large part of the season, was able to provide the leadership the team needed and resulted in his being named as the NAHL’s Leadership Award Winner. Goaltender Alex Tracy was named the East Division’s Goaltender and Rookie of the Year and finished 2nd in the NAHL with a .935 save percentage during the 2019-20 campaign.
The success also resulted in 13 NCAA commitments this past season and during the past two seasons, the Tomhawks have had 27 NCAA commitments. “The ability to move guys onto the NCAA is something we take a lot of pride in. It is a really good feeling as a coach to help your players realize their dreams,” said Letizia. “The NAHL is the League of Opportunity because it gets guys over the hump and that’s why they are coming to the NAHL from all everywhere. They know we have a great track record of development and the statistics say they will end up in the NCAA.”
Like any other NAHL team, the Tomahawks enter the 2020-21 season with some rebuilding to do. The Tomahawks were just one win away in 2019 from playing in the Robertson Cup Championship Game and many veteran players from that group aged out and are off to the NCAA this season. “I think as we prepare for the 2020-21 season, we know we lost a ton of guys, so replacing them is going to be tough. We are only returning seven guys who had experience on the team last year. I think it will be fun to be back on the ice and playing games and we are looking forward to the challenge,” said Letizia.
As for who will be a part of the veteran leadership group for the Tomahawks, Letizia did single out a couple of players, who will be entering their third season playing in the NAHL. Forward and NAPHL grad Andrew Murphy will return after a 20-point season last year. Defenseman Ethan Webb, who also is from the same NAPHL program as Murphy (Esmark Stars), also returns for his third season after putting up nine points in 32 games in 2019-20. The Tomahawks will also see the return of forward Anthony Mastromonica, who began his NAHL career in Johnstown and played the last season and a half in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the Knights.
“Our veterans do things the right way, know what it takes to be a successful, and can help with leadership, especially as we navigate through this year,” said Letizia. “We have been fortunate the past few seasons to have some great success, so we want to keep that momentum going. We want to make sure we are committing as many guys as we can to play NCAA hockey. Don’t get too high or too low, just stay the course.”
As for new faces who look to make an impact Letizia points to defenseman Dustin Geregach, and forwards Mikol Sarter and Max Neill.
Next Up: Kenai River Brown Bears