Summer is typically not thought of as hockey season.
However, for various junior hockey teams across North America, summer represents a chance build your roster for the next season. And in the North American Hockey League, all 24 teams take this opportunity to find players they think fit the mold of their vision.
The Johnstown Tomahawks are no exception. July 14-17, the team held its Main Camp at Planet Ice. The camp was held after three open try-out camps in Pittsburgh, Greater Detroit and Minnesota.
This invitation-only camp saw the best and brightest prospects from the previous camps flock to the city of Johnstown to compete for a spot on the 2016-17 Tomahawks roster.
With roster turnover from last season, Tomahawks head coach Mike Letizia and assistant coach Nick Shackford were hard at work, scouting players, watching film and working the phones to ensure the best competition possible during the four-day camp.
Letizia commented that is was the “dedication” from Shackford and the scouting staff that made Main Camp competitive and successful in finding the players they were searching for during the offseason.
“With the large turnover we had, we were extremely open minded to all the players coming into camp,” Letizia said. “I feel that you need to combine players that have skill, hockey sense, toughness and grit, strong character, and a team first mentality.”
Development is the next step in the process according to Letizia.
“From there as coaches we work on their development both individually and as a team to help us create overall success,” he said. “We had a lot of players that possessed these qualities at our camp which is a product of dedicated scouting by coach Shackford and the other members of our scouting staff.”
The players that reported to Johnstown did not disappoint Letizia. The competition was at a high level throughout the four-day grind.
“We really saw the guys doing all they could to make this team,” Letizia said. “Obviously we couldn't take everyone, but there were so many difficult decisions for us where we kept going back and forth. This was a big reason why we added the second all-star game. We just didn't feel right having just one when we had so many tough choices and we wanted to give it another look and as tough as it still was, it definitely helped us.”
“Additionally, there were some great young prospects at this camp that maybe were not quite ready yet but are guys that we are going to really follow for the future.”
The large turnout for camp made a clear statement. Johnstown and the Tomahawks have become a premier destination for prospects.
“We feel that we are a great destination for prospects,” Letizia said. “Playing in Johnstown is a very special thing for junior hockey players. The tradition of the arena, the town, and the people of the community is what I believe sets us apart. We are striving to be the best possible team we can be on the ice and I look forward to continuing to work to do that.”
Much like a puzzle, a hockey is assembled piece by piece and the Tomahawks are almost done. Next up for the team is training camp in late August.