Season over for Tomahawks

JOHNSTOWN – It’s been five years since the city of Johnstown has played host to playoff hockey.

But the fans cheering for the home team left Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Sunday afternoon feeling just as stunned as they did in 2008.

Port Huron scored two goals in the final 7 minutes of the third period, and Ian Miller tallied the game-winner 3:28 into overtime to steal a series win with a 4-3 victory over the Johnstown Tomahawks in Game 3 of the NAHL North Division quarterfinals.

“I think we just believed,” Port Huron coach Michael Gershon said. “Pretty much my speech going into the third period was ‘We’re going to win this game.’ And we did. It’s all about believing in the playoffs and just continuing to play the right way.”

“Some things happen,” Johnstown coach Jason Spence said. “The bounces don’t always go your way. I think we played a good hockey game. I’m really disappointed in the loss, but our guys played hard.”

The Fighting Falcons struggled to find the back of the net early on, even with open looks.

Notably, Brett D’Andrea missed an open net wide left in the first period, and Dan Dupell had two prime chances within a 20-second span with two minutes left in the second period.

“Sometimes you think to yourself, ‘Maybe it’s not our night. Maybe the hockey gods don’t want us to win this,”’ Gershon said. “You hope the bounces go your way. They didn’t [at that point].”

But Port Huron capitalized when it needed to.

Rick DeRosa redirected a shot from Miller for a power play goal with 7:01 left in the third, and D’Andrea redeemed himself with the equalizer with 35 seconds remaining, silencing the once-raucous crowd of 2,011.

Miller finished off the comeback with his wrap-around goal in OT.

“The guys kept believing,” Gershon said. “We got one on the power-play there, and to get one at the end with a great pass, we just carried that momentum into the overtime. You don’t expect a pretty goal like that in overtime, but that was just Ian taking the puck wide, which he does really well.”

“It wasn’t meant to be, I guess,” Spence said. “I hate saying that, but I thought we deserved to win. I’ll say it – we definitely deserved to win that game.”

Johnstown (28-23-12) drew first blood 4:39 into the game on Brandon Reinholz’s tally.

Port Huron answered early in the second period when a Tomahawks defender tripped over goalie Chris Truehl’s leg, which left the net open for Mitch Maloney.

The fifth-seeded Tomahawks took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission after Cody Gylling’s backhander lit the lamp with 5:31 left in the period.

Mitch Kontny drove home a rebound 8:45 into the third to give Johnstown a 3-1 cushion.

“We were getting shots on goal,” Spence said of his team’s success through the majority of the contest. “We were getting pucks behind their defensemen. We were taking advantage with rebounds and second and third shots.”

It was the first playoff game in Johnstown since April 16, 2008 when the Cincinnati Cyclones finished off a four-game sweep of the Johnstown Chiefs in the ECHL American Conference quarterfinals.

The fourth-seeded Fighting Falcons (34-25-4) will travel to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on Friday for Game 1 of their best-of-5 semifinal series with regular season division champion Soo (41-14-5).

The Tomahawks, meanwhile, will begin preparations for their second season in Johnstown after a successful run in their inaugural campaign.

“I told the players that a lot of people in this community are going to remember this team for a long while,” Spence said. “We had a really hard-working team and created a lot of buzz and excitement in the city.

“Tomorrow, we start [for] next year. We’re going to do everything we can to make our team then best possible for this city.”