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Tomahawks main camp opens this week

Although the Johnstown Tomahawks 2014-15 season doesn’t begin until September, hockey fans can watch the team’s roster begin to take shape at the annual “Red and Blue” game Sunday, July 27, at Planet Ice in Richland Township.

The free annual exhibition game is the culmination of the team’s four-day main camp at Planet Ice, during which more than 80 players will compete to earn a spot on the Tomahawks roster. The game begins at 11 a.m. July 27.

Camp invitees include a blend of returning Tomahawks veterans, tendered prospects, draft picks, and unsigned players who made a strong impression at the Tomahawks’ three previous try-out camps in Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.

“We’re excited about this season, because we have so many talented and hard-working players fighting for roster spots,” head coach Mike Letizia said. “Nobody’s spot on this team is secured, even for the returning guys who played with us last year. The players know that, and it makes for some great competition during camp.”

Given the success the Tomahawks had promoting players to NCAA and USHL programs last season, a number of new faces will be seen across the Tomahawks line-up this season.

Several key members of last season’s squad – including Mitch Hall, Brandon Reinholz, Jordan Watt, Cody Bentzel, Alex Okicki – have advanced to NCAA teams, while forwards Shane Bednard, Joe Drabin, and Casey Linkenheld have each earned full-time roles in the USHL this season.

An impressive group of incoming prospects, however, have Letizia confident that there will be no shortage of talent on this season’s roster. “The tremendous support that our fans have shown us gives us a great situation where players want to come here and be part of such an exciting hockey atmosphere,” he said. “Ultimately, that translates into some great, young players coming to our camps and fighting to make this team.”

A number of local products are also among the players hoping to secure a spot on the Tomahawks roster, including Richland’s Tyler Hudak.

The four-day camp, which begins with closed sessions on Thursday, will force Letizia to make difficult decisions as he trims the list of 80 prospects down to the two teams who will compete in the Sunday exhibition.

"I want players to be themselves," Letizia said. "As a coach, it is my job to help them excel at what they are good at and to teach them to do things they thought they weren't capable of. I want them to be well-rounded on the ice as well as off the ice."

Fans have filled Planet Ice to near capacity at the two previous camp exhibition games, and Letizia said he’s hoping the support continues this year.

“It’s a great atmosphere to show our players what they can expect from the great fans of Johnstown. And in turn, it’s a great way to show the players how much the fans expect out of them.”

The Tomahawks main camp exhibition game is free and open to the public. For additional information, call (814) 536-4625 or go online at johnstowntomahawks.com.

For more, check out our ongoing camp coverage.