When opportunity came knocking, your Johnstown Tomahawks answered the door.
February 27-28. the North American Hockey League hosted the 2017 Top Prospects Tournament, a two-day annual event that showcases the best of the best in the NAHL in front of hundreds of college and pro scouts.
Held at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., the tournament featured seven Tomahawks players, a new high for the team, as well as one coach in Mike Letizia.
The east Division contained Nick Bruce, Daniil Bokun, Logan Stork and Adam Pilewicz while the NAHL Selects team featured the vaunted HBO Line of Dalton Hunter, Filips Buncis and Donovan Ott.
And when the dust settled, it was clear just how myuch of a mark the Tomahawks left on this tournament.
“I think there is no questions our guys really came to the table,” Letizia said. “The East Division had a lot of impact guys and really had two good wins in the tournament; they really came to play. On the Selects team, it was pretty evident that Fil (Buncis) Donny (Ott) and Dalton were pretty special players. They all showed up on the scoresheet and plenty of colleges were raving about them.”
Being selected for this tournament is a very prestigious honor for players and coaches alike, however for Letizia, it was a very special honor as he returned to the place where he started his junior hockey career.
Letizia played defense for four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. The Whalers, then owned by Pete Karmanos, the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, competed in Plymouth from 1997-2015 before moving to Flint, Mich.
“I came here 15 years ago and it’s crazy to think it’s been that long,” Letizia said. “I had an unbelievable four years playing for the Whalers. I owe everything I have in my life now to playing junior hockey here. To coach these kids here was really cool.”
As a reliable defenseman for the Whalers, Letizia competed against future NHL stars in Ryan Callahan (Tampa Bay), Eric Staal (Minnesota), Corey Perry (Anaheim) and Bobby Ryan (Ottawa) to name a few.
Additionally, Letizia was teammates with former Pittsburgh Penguins winger James Neal, former Chicago defenseman James Wisniewski and Winnipeg Jets forward Chris Thorburn.
“I was really fortunate to play with a lot of great players in the OHL,” Letizia said. “I competed against guys with long NHL careers like Ryan Callahan. He and I had a pretty serious rivalry for four years and I competed against Corey Perry who won the Hart Trophy. The OHL is a great league and I was fortunate to be in it.”
Letizia stressed that the NAHL is also a fantastic league for hockey players to compete in and chase their dream.
“We move guys onto the NHL and Division I continually,” Letizia said. “This is a fantastic league.”
As he said above, Letizia contributes many of his successes to playing four years in Plymouth, but none is perhaps more important than this one.
Johnstown hockey fans are sure to remember goaltender Ryan Nie, who played for the Chiefs in 2007-08 and had a very successful season.
Well, Letizia and Nie were teammates in Plymouth and grew to be best friends and it was because Nie that Coach is here in Johnstown today.
“Ryan and I are best friends and when he played in Johnstown he introduced me to my wife,” Letizia said. “That’s how I moved to the Johnstown after that and eventually became the head coach for the Tomahawks. It’s funny how hockey works.”