(Photo Credit: Andy Devlin/Hockey Canada Images)
This weekend, the Johnstown Tomahawks will take on the country’s best junior hockey players in a two-game exhibition at the RMU Island Sports Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Tomahawks and the United States National Development Program meet for the first time Saturday, Sept. 17 with a contest at 9:15 p.m. The exhibition series concludes Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7:00 p.m.
For the Tomahawks this is an opportunity to play the country’s best players and is an added test to a busy start to the 2016-17 season.
Head coach Mike Letizia stated that the opportunity to compete against the United States Development Program is a great chance for “our players to showcase their talents.”
“It really is a great chance for our players to compete against such a prestigious program,” Letizia said. “The opportunity to test ourselves against a high-end collection of young American talent is an exciting challenge for our players. The exposure our players can receive is exceptional and we eagerly look forward to the games.”
The USNTDP has developed some of hockey’s most recognizable superstars including Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Columbus Blue Jackets forward and Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad.
Danton Cole, a former National Hockey League winger who played six seasons, leads Team USA into Pittsburgh to face the Tomahawks. He hails from Pontiac, Mich.
Cole commented that the program looks to challenge its players every game and the exhibition with Johnstown is a great challenge.
“It is always a challenge for our guys to face the older players,” Cole said. “A core part of our development is to put them in situations where it is very hard for them to succeed and the games against junior teams is an excellent way to accomplish it.”
The players the Tomahawks face Saturday and Sunday are working just as hard to realize their dream. Potential NHL stars could be taking the ice this weekend.
American hockey has come a long way since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., when Team USA defeated the juggernaut Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice.”
During the 2016 NHL Draft, The USNTDP saw a record number of players drafted in the first round (12).
Cole said that it is a testament to the hard work that has gone into building the program.
It is a tremendous reflection on USA Hockey and all of the hard work that has gone into growing both the quality of the game and the level of the game,” Cole said. “The ADM program will only continue to elevate the abilities of our youth players. The coaching improvements through the coaching education program is also a key for our organization. It gives the coaches the knowledge and tools to help the young players improve. It bodes extremely well for our future and we know feel we have a chance to win each time we participate in an international tourney.”
Tickets to this weekend’s events are free to the public.
Be sure to follow the Tomahawks social media accounts for updates throughout the games. Johnstown returns to NAHL play Wednesday, Sept. 21 for the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn. The Tomahawks meet the Springfield Jr. Blues in game one of the showcase.