During the Johnstown Tomahawks All-Star Game on Sunday afternoon, fans had the opportunity to see the kind of talent the team will bring to the Cambria County War Memorial Arena this September. Before the game even began, Prospect Payton Ruter provided them with an early preview of that talent and largely set the tone for the day when he unleashed a powerful slap shot that shattered the glass behind the net during warm-ups. It was the first of several moments that sent a clear message to everyone watching: The young men competing for a chance to don a Tomahawks jersey this fall came to play at an elite level.
The All-Star Game served as the final phase of the team's Main Tryout Camp, a four-day event held at Planet Ice in Richland Township. The game also provided the prospects with one last chance to impress the coaching staff and earn an invitation to training camp. 40 players dressed for either the Navy Team or Red Team in hopes of being one of the 26 men ultimately selected.
The Red Team bested the Navy Team 5-1, but players from both squads proved themselves with a physical, high-velocity game that saw a fight and more than a few hard hits. Players impressed with their stick handling abilities and hockey smarts as they skillfully deked to maneuver around opposing defenseman and battled hard in front of the net. The prospects also did not shy away from camping out in front of the goaltenders to screen shots or throwing themselves between passes, sacrificing their bodies for their teams.
Following the game, Ruter, a big-bodied forward who plays a physical game, listed the sacrifices made for his teammates as one of the things he loves most about the sport: "You don't just have teammates, you have brothers. I would do anything for my brothers; I don't care if I have to take a puck or a fist to the face."
Jesse Kessler, a defenseman hailing from Nashville also stood out as a tough competitor and leader. He was pleased with the game, saying, "It was very competitive, physical, fast-paced, and skilled." When asked about the town the Tomahawks call home, he added, "Johnstown seems like a great place. There's a lot of camaraderie and a family atmosphere here. It looks like a fun place to play hockey."
The players attending training camp, which begins on August 20, will look to improve upon their performance from this weekend and continue building team chemistry that's so essential to the game. The 26 players who will report to Johnstown on that Monday are eager to get back on the ice and create a winning franchise that will dominate the NAHL's North Division. Both on and off the ice, through their words and actions, the current Tomahawks roster has shown that hockey is their passion and they refuse to put anything less than a superior product on the ice.
Forward Gage Christianson, a playmaker and point-scorer, echoed the sentiments of his teammates when he said, "Whenever you're on the ice-no matter what's on your mind-your head is clear. The only thing you're thinking about is hockey. Nothing combines speed, finesse, and strength like hockey does."
Christianson and his teammates will set out to prove just that when the Tomahawks play their first game on Saturday, September 8 in Port Huron, Michigan.