2013 Main Tryout Camp: Day One

2013 Main Tryout Camp: Day One
Expectations are high as more than 80 men hit the ice in Johnstown with the hopes of seeing their names on the back of a Tomahawks jersey.

By Suzanne Grove


At moments during Day One of the Tomahawks 2013 Main Tryout Camp, returning players and staff almost had a hard time believing that nearly one full year had passed since the team’s first Camp last August. During those hot summer days in 2012, not a single person in Johnstown or anywhere around the world had seen a Tomahawks player set foot on the ice at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, the historic barn where the team now plays 28 home games each season.


The mascot, Chopper, and his fun, in-game antics were still unfamiliar to fans. We, as a collective hockey community throughout Western and Central PA, had yet to experience the thrill of seeing number soixante-six, Mario Lemieux, drop the ceremonial puck at the Home Opener. We had yet to experience the joy of watching the youngest fans wait along the gated runway to the ice, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hawks as they took the ice from the locker room and high-five or cheer them on as they went – something that quickly became a welcome tradition before games.


A year ago, it was all so thrilling and exciting and new.


But somehow, now knowing what lies ahead – from the fun theme and promotional game nights and the school visits to the partnerships with local charities and screams of fans watching a Hawk drop his gloves to fight – makes these four days of tryouts at Planet Ice in Richland Township more exhilarating.


“Our returning players know exactly what it takes to wear the Hawks logo on their chests, night in and night out,” said Assistant Coach Mike Letizia. “They know how we operate and all about our goal of putting an elite team on the ice every night for our fans. The new prospects are learning this and will continue to understand the caliber of talent we want on our roster and the kind of supportive environment and opportunities this city and region will provide for them.”


We know the thrill of victory as the sirens and horns explode inside the War Memorial. We know the chill of defeat. We know the pride of wearing the Tomahawks logo on our chests. And, so, this weekend signifies one step closer to bringing new life to the organization's inaugural slogan, “Hockey is Back.” 


For returning players, it means getting back into the groove of the seasonand getting back to the game they love. For the new men trying out, it means dreaming of being a part of it all.


Letizia helped to prove exactly what the young hopefuls have in store for them if they make it through the rigorous and demanding tryout and onto the team’s roster. Main Tryout Camp began with a player sign-in at 4 p.m. on Thursday, followed by a meeting held by the Tomahawks Hockey Operations Staff to welcome the prospects to Johnstown and clearly define expectations. As part of that meeting, Letizia played a special video presentation highlighting exactly what being a Tomahawk means.


At the meeting and throughout the night, the Hockey Operations Staff stressed the importance of not only impressing on the ice, but off it as well. General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations Rick Boyd reminded everyone of how this region has embraced Hawks players and how they represent every one of our fans when they venture out into the community.  He talked about the goal of creating well-rounded individuals and not just talented hockey players. He left no doubts that expectations are high and the personality in the locker room and beyond goes a long way in earning wins and creating a good atmosphere.


But, no one had forgotten that just a polite demeanor and respectful attitude doesn’t win hockey games. Boyd emphasized, his voice ringing out strong and clear in the large room, that each man had better bring something unique to their tryout.


“Every one of you can skate, shoot, and hit,” he said. “What are you going to do that’s different?” He paused to let it sink in. “How are you going to stand out? You have three days to make sure we notice you. What are you going to do?”


Head Coach Jason Spence followed up on Boyd’s words by telling the prospects that Tomahawks hockey means an intense work ethic.


“If you want it, you better bring it all the time,” said Spence. “We don’t take nights off. We don’t take shifts off. We need people we can count on in every situation.”


The remainder of the night would be devoted to practices, one for each of four teams (red, gray, navy, light blue). Some players with a later ice time left the rink to eat or meet with family, while players who were part of the team last season hugged, laughed, and talked while catching up with each other. Chopper wondered the corridors, introducing himself to new prospects and greeting the siblings and family members of players.


While right now no one knows exactly who will remain by the start of the All-Star Game on Sunday at 11 a.m. and who will be on the lineup sheet come September for the first home game, one thing is certain: Nearly all of the 80-plus players attending Camp have the skills to win hockey games and make a career out of playing. The sheer amount of talent in the room during the first meeting means that earning a spot on the team will be incredibly challenging, but, for fans, it means that watching the Tomahawks for the 2013-14 season will be nothing but pleasure.