JOHNSTOWN - It's only been two years since a hockey team called Johnstown home, but for those that loved to see games played at Cambria County War Memorial Arena it may have felt like an eternity.
In true fashion, though, it looked like the city never missed a beat.
From hockey-themed festivities shutting down Napoleon Street in front of the arena to an NHL legend dropping a ceremonial first puck to a pre-game show literally filled with fireworks, Johnstown welcomed its new team, the Tomahawks, in grand fashion Saturday.
"Johnstown needed a team to call its own and to rally behind," Tomahawks general manager Rick Boyd said. "To have that and to give it to them, I think today was awesome."
"It was fantastic," Johnstown coach Jason Spence said. "To go [outside] before the game and see 2,000 people on the sidewalk was fantastic."
Despite the incredible entrance, the night was capped with a 3-2 Michigan shootout win in the Tomahawks first-ever home game in the NAHL.
"The guys worked really hard," Spence said, "but we killed ourselves with turnovers."
The Tomahawks are a Tier II Junior A team that relocated from Palmer, Alaska after an official announcement was made in May. The ECHL Johnstown Chiefs made the move to Greenville, S.C. after the completion of the 2010 season.
To welcome its new team properly, the city hosted its first HockeyFest in front of the War Memorial on Saturday afternoon.
Once the Tomahawks players were introduced one-by-one and surrounded the center ice logo, fireworks filled the arena and the blue lines were even lit on fire.
And to top it off, Pittsburgh Penguins chairman and principle owner Mario Lemieux was greeted with a rousing ovation as he dropped a ceremonial puck in front of the sellout crowd.
"The entire staff did a great job of putting this together," Boyd said. "From top to bottom, everybody had a part in it, and I think it was spectacular. It was very entertaining for everyone that came in. Everyone got their money's worth, and I hope they come back."
The game didn't disappoint, either, even with smoke still billowing from the pre-game pyrotechnics for most of the first period.
Things got testy in the second period between the North Division rivals.
A scrum had to be broken up after nearly every play stoppage, and reminiscent to Johnstown hockey and the cult movie "Slap Shot," 13 penalties were issued.
"The people of Johnstown and the surrounding areas have been through so much," said Boyd, who was second all-time on the Johnstown Chiefs penalty minutes list. "They need something to believe in, and they need something to fight for. Even going back to when I played, you were playing for someone that worked in a steel mill. And when you did something or hit somebody against the boards, everyone would cheer."
"I thought the crowd was great," Spence said. "They were in their seats until the end of the game."
Johnstown's Brandon Reinholz and Cobi Smith-Mass sandwiched second period goals around a Warriors' Jake Hopfner tally to give the Tomahawks a 2-1 lead after two.
Michigan's Connor Lyons got the equalizer with 3:29 left in the third to force overtime.
"We lost a point, but we still picked up the one point, but there's things to build off of," Spence said, whose team faces the Warriors again today at 1 p.m.. "We need to clean up some things, but there were a lot of good things. We have to take those good things and bring them into [today's] game."
Even thought the result wasn't what Boyd wanted, he was more than thrilled with how the day went.
"I think the entire day was a huge success," he said. "The game could have gone a little better - we could have won. But what we needed to do was convince Johnstown and the surrounding areas that junior hockey is good hockey. I think we accomplished that today.
But most importantly to the city of Johnstown, "Hockey is back."
SCORE BY PERIOD
Michigan0 1 1 0 1 - 3
Johnstown0 2 0 0 0 - 2
First period-None. Penalties-Hesse, J (roughing), 5:19.
Second period-1, Johnstown, Reinholz (Bentzel), 10:24; 2, Michigan, Hopfner (Larkin, Rendino), 15:14. 3, Johnstown, Smith-Mass (Bentzel), 17:27. Penalties-Reinholz, J (kneeing), 7:39; Fairchild, J (roughing), 10:46; Kontny, J (roughing), 10:46; Click, M (roughing), 10:46; Hopfner, M (charging), 10:46; Rendino, M (roughing), 10:46; Reinholz, J (maj.-fighting), 12:45; Prochazka, M (maj.-fighting), 12:45; Hansen, J (delay of game), 13:09; Mudge, M (delay of game), 13:09; Baker, J (delay of game), 16:09; Click, M (delay of game), 16:09; Kontny, J (misconduct), 18:24.
Third period-4, Michigan, Lyons (Hopfner), 16:31. Penalties-Mudge, M (slashing), 4:01; Gruse, M (roughing, misconduct), 7:43; Sorenson, M (interference), 10:37.
Shootout-Michigan (Marcinek, Labelle, Szajner). Johnstown-None.
Shots on goal-Michigan 10-8-7-2-27. Johnstown 5-13-7-0-25.
Goalies-Michigan, Pesendorfer 25 shots-23 saves. Johnstown, Truehl 27-25.