Johnstown Tomahawks head coach Mike Letizia will have a mix of old and new faces on the roster when his team begins their third season in the North American Hockey League.
The Tomahawks will carry 28 players on the roster as they prepare for the season opener on the road against the Keystone Ice Miners, who play in nearby Connellsville, Pa., on Saturday, Sept. 13.
“We have an exciting group of players this season, including some guys who were definite contributors for us last season,” said Letizia. “Each of them, along with all of the newcomers, has worked extremely hard throughout the summer, and we're looking for a very successful season out of them.”
The Tomahawks return several veterans on the blueline, where regulars Dakoda Menslage, Shane Cuckovich, Alex Jaeckle, Logan Hudson and Brady Bender all return. Menslage led the returning defensemen in scoring last season with 5 goals and 11 assists in 55 games. Bender, meanwhile, had the best plus-minus rating of the group, with a plus-6 rating in 51 games played.
Newcomers on the blueline include 18-year-old rookies Steve Quagliata and Jake Houston. Houston, a Pittsburgh native, played in four games with the Tomahawks as an affiliate player last season, adding one assist. Twenty-year-old Slovakian defenseman Ivan Osko rounds out the defensive corps.
At forward, Johnstown returns regulars Trevor Recktenwald, Tanner Barnes, Josh Bowes, and Garrison Sanipass for their final year of junior eligibility. Barnes led the returning forwards with 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) in 51 total games last year. Forward Tommy Hall, 18, also returns after contributing 5 assists and 58 penalty minutes in 29 games last season.
The crop of incoming forwards includes a mix of NAHL veterans, tendered prospects, draft picks, and free agent try-out players. Veteran winger Cam Bleck, 20, was acquired in an off-season trade and also scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games. He is joined by center Collin Montgomery, 20, as the only other incoming forward with NAHL experience. Montgomery has played 31 career games between Topeka and Wenatchee, scoring 3 goals and 4 assists and adding 62 penalty minutes since the 2011-12 season.
The rookies include tendered prospects Andrew Romano, Ryan Bochert, Zach Zech, Luke Lynch and Zac Robbins, as well as first-round draft pick Dalton Hunter. Rookie forwards Connor Eckenrod, Peter Bates, Brendan Logan and Zander Sorenson join the team after impressing in camp as free-agent try-outs.
In goal, Johnstown returns 19-year-old Brett Young, alongside rookies Jake Gwillim and Ryan Bednard.
Bednard is the younger brother of last season’s leading scorer, Shane Bednard, who has been promoted to play with Bloomington of the USHL this season. He is also one of two NAHL players to be named to the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game, to be played later this month in Buffalo. The game is for the top American-born players eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
The Tomahawks will have their largest pool of Pennsylvania-born players this season, as seven players hail from the Keystone state. Recktenwald, Houston, and Lynch hail from the Pittsburgh area, while Hunter is from nearby Greensburg. Eckenrod, of Ebensburg, has the most local roots on the team, while Montgomery and Romano are from the Philadelphia area.
The team will see their next action on the ice next Monday, Sept. 8, as they head to Ohio for their final tune-up before the regular season in an exhibition game against the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms.
Johnstown’s home opener is Oct. 25 against the Keystone Ice Miners.
Season ticket packages are available now, with 14-gameflex plans starting at under $99. For more information, go to www.johnstowntomahawks.com or call 814-536-4625.