The Johnstown Tomahawks’ origins date to the 1996-97 season, when the team was formed as the St. Louis Sting. The team had a combined regular season record of 98-158-15 during its five seasons in St. Louis.
In 2001, the team moved to Springfield, Missouri, and was renamed the Springfield Spirit. In four seasons there, the team was 71-133-20 in regular season play.
The team moved to Wasilla, Alaska, in 2005, becoming known as the Wasilla Spirit. They were 23-33-2 during the 2005-06 regular season. The team was renamed the Alaska Avalanche the following season, and they continued playing in Wasilla until the end of the 2009-10 season, when they moved to Palmer, Alaska.
In their six seasons as the Alaska Avalanche, the team was 154-167-33 in the regular season. In their final year in Alaska, the team was 35-19-6, finishing third in the West Division. They lost their opening-round playoff series to the Wenatchee Wild, three games to two.
Johnstown Hockey History
Johnstown has enjoyed a seven-decade love affair with ice hockey, dating back to a short one-year stop at the old Shaffer Ice Palace in 1941 when the late Mayor John A. Conway dropped the first puck between the Johnstown Bluebirds and the New York Rovers of the Eastern Hockey League.
The Blue Birds played only one season (a 34-26 campaign), but hockey would return to Johnstown nine years later – this time at the newly built Cambria County War Memorial. The arena was opened as a tribute to all men and women of Cambria County who wore the uniform in service to their beloved nation. The Johnstown Jets were its first tenant. The Jets enjoyed a 26-year-stay, playing in the Eastern, International, and North American Hockey Leagues until their final season in 1977.
The Jets also served as the basis for the fictitious Charlestown Chiefs in the 1977 film “Slap Shot.” The hockey comedy, filmed in Johnstown and at the War Memorial, has remained a cult-classic and a favorite of the hockey community worldwide. The film’s most memorable characters, the rowdy Hanson Brothers, have also remained a significant part of Johnstown’s hockey legacy.
From 1978-80, the Johnstown Wings – changed to the Johnstown Red Wings in their second season – played at the War Memorial, again in the Eastern Hockey League. Hockey returned yet again in 1987-88, when the Johnstown Chiefs were formed to join the All American Hockey League. The Chiefs joined the upstart East Coast Hockey League the next year, and remained in Johnstown until moving in 2010. The Chiefs were the ECHL’s last original franchise when they left.
Johnstown was without a team of its own for two years, despite serving as an alternate home site for ten Wheeling Nailers (ECHL) games each season.
Starting with the 2012-2013 season, the Alaska Avalanche of the North American Hockey League (a league unrelated to the same league that the Jets played in) were purchased and relocated to Johnstown and renamed the Tomahawks. The new team brought high-intesity, hard-hitting, and affordable Junior A hockey as the city of Johnstown once again had a team to call its own. Since the team’s relocation, the organization has received the NAHL’s Organization of the Year Award (2012-2013 season) and has routinely finished in the top five in average attendance each year. The Tomahawks hope to continue to remain a community asset in Johnstown for many future generations.