Mario Lemieux talks to Kontny at the Tomahawks inaugural home opener on Sept. 29
Mitch Kontny Finds a Home and Leadership Role in Johnstown
By Suzanne Grove
Mitch Kontny enjoys playing golf. In fact, when asked which of his teammates is the best man on the links, the Tomahawks captain paused for reflection and offered a mischievous smile:
“Obviously, I’m going to say myself,” he said, laughing. “I’m a big golfer. I play all the time in the summer, and I’ve been golfing a few times here when it’s nice out and we have a day off.”
Several members of the team have discussed their interest in golf since arriving in Johnstown, including Kontny, Jeff Bergh, and Cody Gylling. Even Kontny eventually admitted that Gylling has him beat when it comes to the game of golf. After tough on-ice practices with Head Coach Jason Spence and Assistant Coach Mike Letizia and grueling dry-land workouts, some of the players have enjoyed the courses at Richland Greens Golf Center and Ebensburg Country Club.
But, at the end of the day, the sport played on ice with two steel blades and a six-ounce disk of vulcanized rubber is still Kontny’s favorite. After all, one doesn’t become the leader of his NAHL team by only having a passing interest in hockey.
Kontny, who was born in Ashland, Wis., but calls nearby Superior, Wis. home, became interested in hockey at a young age thanks to a neighbor, who was the only hockey player Kontny knew of at the time.
“Growing up in Ashland, it wasn’t a big hockey town,” he said, pointing out that football, basketball, and baseball are much more popular there. “My neighbor gave me a stick, and I loved it.”
Unlike some of his teammates who come from a family of hockey players or who have siblings who play the game, Kontny is the only person in his family to play. Perhaps he can start a tradition of his own.
One aspect of the sport that attracted Kontny is its team-oriented nature. There’s a reason hockey players often refer to their teammates as brothers: They battle for each other, literally throwing themselves in harm’s way and sacrificing their bodies to help the team earn wins. They also spend a lot of quality hours together, from games to practices, workouts, and long bus trips. While chemistry is certainly necessary on the ice and may first develop there, time spent in the locker room and away from the rink also goes a long way in building a team that can play well together.
“I love the team,” Kontny said. “It’s always fun when we’re off the ice; we have a lot of jokers. But, when we get on the ice, we’re serious and we compete.”
Like a true leader, he said it’s important for himself and the rest of the Tomahawks to make an effort during the week to gather everyone and spend time together as a team, whether it be watching movies or playing video games, such as NHL 13.
But Kontny and the Tomahawks had the opportunity to prove they take their role as Johnstown’s hockey team seriously when they took the ice at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena for the team’s inaugural home game on Saturday, Sept. 29. The city officially welcomed hockey back to Johnstown and met the players during the pre-game ceremony, which featured NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld, Mario Lemieux dropping the ceremonial puck, and an impressive pyrotechnics display that included flaming blue lines, showers of fireworks cascading from the ceiling, and fire blasts that accompanied each player’s entrance onto the War Memorial ice in front of almost 4,000 screaming fans.
To say Kontny was impressed would be an understatement.
“It was amazing,” he offered. “I’ve never been a part of anything like it. I was shocked the whole time; it was unreal.”
Despite losing the first game to the division-rival Michigan Warriors, 4-3, in a shootout, the Tomahawks earned their first home win on Sunday in a scrappy rematch that saw Johnstown beat the Warriors, 4-2.
Kontny knows what it takes to play the kind of physically demanding game fans saw on Sunday. His off-season workout routine proves his dedication: He does a bike workout every morning at 6:30 a.m. before going to work, and later in the day he lifts with a friend who currently plays college hockey. Kontny made an intelligent observation when he commented that like good preparation, “winning is a habit” that he hopes his team gets into.
Away from the rink, Kontny has adjusted to another routine: Life with his new billet family, Jeff and Belinda Dick, who have a nine-year-old son, Brandon. Kontny has even made an effort to go and watch Brandon’s hockey practices. The Dick’s also house Jeff Bergh.
“It’s like we’re part of their family now,” he said. “They just treat us so well.”
It has become clear over the past months that the Tomahawks too have become a family, undoubtedly in large part to Kontny and his leadership and passion for the game.