Youth Players Participate in Tomahawks Hockey School
By Suzanne Grove
On the morning of Thursday, August 1, the Zamboni inside Planet Ice Arena in Richland Township was busy with the usual routine of creating a clean sheet of ice, the hum and whistle of its motor echoing against the glass. A white mist hung in the air like dozens of strands of thin, white clouds. A hushed stillness settled over the entire scene, as if somehow knowing that a clash of sticks and skates and sweat was coming.
As August arrived and settled over Johnstown, the penultimate day of the Johnstown Tomahawks Hockey School was about to take place. Only a week prior, young men had converged inside that very same building with the goal of making it onto the Tomahawks training camp roster and then someday onto the team’s bench inside the War Memorial Arena. But now, youth players from the community had their turn to gain the attention and direction of an experienced and knowledgeable set of instructors, including Tomahawks Head Coach Jason Spence and Assistant Coach Mike Letizia.
With Tomahawks General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations Rick Boyd serving as the director and newly appointed Associate Coach and Director of Player Personnel for the Aberdeen Wings (NAHL) Francis Anzalone serving as the program developer and instructor, the 2013 Johnstown Tomahawks Hockey School was created to further develop and assist youth hockey in the Greater Johnstown Region. The school provided 15 hours of on-ice instruction, daily dry-land training, video breakdowns, and thorough instruction in hockey concepts, along with personalized instruction tailored to help each young player personally improve his or her game.
Letizia enjoyed his time at the School, which concludes today.
“We are working hard to help the players with their individual skill sets,” he said. “We help them to develop their skating, passing, puck handling, and shooting, then try to carry over these basics into more game-like scenarios.”
Tomahawks Head Coach Jason Spence took on the role of the School’s head instructor with the help of Mike Grattan, the head scout and director of player development for the Aberdeen Wings, and several Tomahawks players.
Jordan Watt, Jesse Kessler, Dakoda Menslage, Cody Bentzel, JB Baker, and Jaycob McCombs all assisted on the ice, along with former Tomahawk and current BCHL player Cody Boyd.
“I thought it was great to be a part of the community and to help the kids,” said Menslage, a defenseman from Orleans, MA who laced up the skate for the Hawks last season. “Watching them skate just from the beginning of School until now has been amazing – they’ve developed a lot. They very well could be future Tomahawks. They all worked hard for the entire week and should be proud of themselves.”
The School exemplifies the Tomahawks’ goal of supporting youth hockey players and the community. Despite the lack of a team for two years, Johnstown and the surrounding regions didn’t turn their backs on hockey, but continued to love the game with a fierce passion. Parents might not have been able to take their children to the War Memorial for a game during that time, but that didn’t stop them from encouraging each young boy and girl to take pride in the game and all that it has to offer.
Belinda and Jeff Dick, who served as billet parents of Mitch Kontny and Jeff Bergh last season, were happy to sign their 10-year-old son Brandon up for the School.
“It was an easy decision,” said Jeff. “Everything we’ve seen with the Tomahawks organization and players has been nothing but outstanding. Brandon has only had great things to say about the School, and I know he’s not looking forward to the week ending.”
Brandon was equally enthusiastic about getting to spend the week getting instruction from some of his favorite players.
“I love playing ball hockey with the Tomahawks,” he said. “I got two or three percent better every day, including on my pivots, strokes, crossovers, 3-on-3 drills, and shooting. The coaches taught us great things, and I loved having them help me with my hockey skills. I wish it went on for one more week.”
Brandon emphasized how much fun it was to practice with old friends and make some new friends in the process, before adding in a hearty, Let’s Go Hawks!
Another parent who is no stranger to the hockey scene in Johnstown in Misty Plunkard, who serves as team manager for the Lady Jets. Her eight-year-old daughter, Taylor, is an avid hockey fan and player.
“When Taylor found out that the Tomahawks were sponsoring the School this year, she became really excited,” said Plunkard. “Even though she is only eight years old, she has made special bonds with some of the Tomahawks players. She looks up to these players and enjoys watching the game and learning from them. I think the Tomahawks have helped keep the hockey interest level up for all the kids, both on and off the ice.”
Like Brandon, Taylor, who has dreams of playing hockey in college, wishes the School could continue for longer.
“What I loved about hockey school was hanging out with my friends, playing ice and ball hockey and also dodge ball,” said Taylor. “I have learned a lot from Jason Spence, who taught me that you have to be crouched down low as if you’re sitting on a chair to get your speed.”
Taylor also enjoyed having Cody Boyd teach her how to fight and said Kessler and Watt were a big help to her.
Overall, the 2013 Tomahawks Hockey School served as a fun, but educational way to continue the hockey tradition in this region. Providing youth players with opportunities to develop their skills and interact with players is exactly what Rick Boyd, Spence, and Letizia had in mind.
“The kids have been receptive and seemed to get better every day while also having fun,” said Letizia. “The biggest thing we try to teach them is that no matter the drill or task, they should do it at a high level and with a purpose. That way, they will see results when they get into their games.”