Apr. 3—Fans were allowed to attend a Maine Nordiques game at the Colisee for the first time since Halloween.
Friday’s contest was supposed to be a heavyweight tilt between the top two teams in the North American Hockey League’s East Division. The 400 fans in the building saw the first-place Johnstown Tomahawks throw the knockout blows with five goals early in the third period to claim an 8-1 victory over the second-place Nordiques.
The Tomahawks offensive attack was paced by Reed Stark’s four points (a goal and three assists) and Alex Gritz’s three points (one goal, two assists).
The win puts Johnstown (29-7-4, 62 points) five points ahead of Maine (28-15-1, 57 points). The Tomahawks have played four less games than the Nordiques.
“I know Maine is pretty close in the standings, and this whole week was getting ready for these two big games and kind of separating ourselves,” Starks said. “We did that tonight with a (big win) and playing smart and well.”
Just nine seconds into the contest, Maine’s Isaiah Fox gave the home fans something cheer for when he fired a wrist shot from the right circle past Tomahawks goalie Josh Graziano. University of Maine recruit Tyler Gaulin and defenseman Cooper Swift had the assists.
“We have been talking about energy management all year. I think having additional energy from the fan base tonight being welcome back to the Colisee was a big push,” Nordiques associate head coach Matt Pinchevsky said. “I think they applied it right away. We (the coaches) kept saying, ‘Stay here, don’t go anywhere,’ because a quick goal like that you need to regain your focus and get right back work.”
Head coach Nolan Howe was not on the Nordiques’ bench Friday night.
Graziano (22 saves) has won eight of nine games since joining the Tomahawks from the New Mexico Ice Wolves on Feb. 13.
“He’s a goaltender we acquired at the (trade) deadline,” Johnstown coach Mike Letizia said. “We needed help on our team, and to solidify things, and he definitely stepped up here tonight with a big game, especially after their early goal. He didn’t let that phase him, he stayed composed and he really did a good job for us.”
The Tomahawks’ leading score, Jay Ahern (22 goals), tied the contest nearly seven minutes into the period. He picked up the puck in the neutral zone on a partial breakaway and skated into Johnstown’s offensive zone and beat Nordiques goalie Tyriq Outen. Brandan Clar and Liam Whitehouse had the helpers.
“Ahern has a knack of scoring goals. That was a huge one (after) getting down early in that game,” Letizia said. “To tie it up for us, that was a huge bounce back and he did a great job making sure it went in.”
With eight-and-half minutes remaining in the first period, Anthony Mastromonica put Johnstown up 2-1.
Pinchevsky said a faceoff loss resulted in the Tomahawks’ first goal and a back-check issue led to the second goal.
The scored remained 2-1 into the second period. Johnstown’s Will Margel had a mini-breakaway early in the second, but Outen made a nice glove save.
Later is the second period, Outen tried to make a sprawling save, and almost did, but Andrew Murphy’s shot got past the Maine goalie. Whitehouse had his second assist on the goal, while Reed Stark had the secondary assist.
“The one they got in the second, I thought we did some things better, but we never were able to tighten the grip to strike back,” Pinchevsky said. “We had some chances; we were looking to the power play to create a little bit more with the opportunities they had. The third period was unacceptable, and (the players) know that.”
The Nordiques went 0 for 5 on the power play.
The Tomahawks poured it on in the third, scoring three goals in the first four-and-half minutes of the period. Clark scored three seconds after a Tomahawks penalty ended to make the lead 4-1. Reed Stark added another goal at the three-minute mark. Gritz, who assisted on Stark’s goal, stretched the lead to 6-1 at the 4:30 mark.
“We are obviously a deep team and the standings show that,” Stark said. “We are first in the East and second (overall) in the league. “Depth is something we preach and everyone was playing tonight and really well.”
Gritz’s goal ended Outen’s (19 saves) time in goal for the night.
Johnstown finally scored on a power play ( 1-for-5) midway through the third period when Will Margel’s slap shot cleanly beat Nordiques goalie Avery Sturtz (seven saves).
Daniel Tkac added the Tomahawks’ eighth goal in the final two minutes of the game.
The teams face off again Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Colisee, with 1,000 fans allowed to attend the game.