Black Bears halt Tomahawks' winning streak at eight
Feb. 18—The first-place Maryland Black Bears built an early lead and never allowed the Johnstown Tomahawks to get back into Friday night's NAHL contest, snapping the 'Hawks' season-best, eight-game winning streak.
The Black Bears won 4-0 in front of 2,619 fans at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial on the strength of two goals by Branden Piku and a 13-save shutout by Maryland goalie William Hakansson.
"Obviously, it was not our best effort," Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said. "We've been going pretty well for eight in a row — playing pretty darn good hockey. Tonight was not our best. Certainly (Maryland is) a very good hockey team but I also don't think we gave ourselves much of a chance.
"I think that we just kind of got pretty much away from everything that's worked well for us. Credit to them."
The fifth-place Tomahawks (21-18-2) remained three points behind the fourth-place Maine Nordiques, who fell 4-1 at Northeast on Friday.
Maryland (29-10-4) has an East Division-best 62 points.
"They're a team that generates a lot of offense," Letizia said. "If you get a little lazy and get away from your structure, they can expose you. On those first two goals, they did."
Maryland, which finished with a 35-13 shots on goal advantage, had multiple scoring opportunities early.
Brad McNeil worked free for an open shot that clanged off the post just under 2 minutes into the game.
Skating short-handed, the Black Bears had two more quality chances in tight, but goalie Alec Rajalin-Scharp turned away back-to-back attempts by Sanuel Stitz and Brayden Stannard with 14:40 on the clock.
Maryland defenseman Trey Scott netted the game's first goal at 7:06, and Piku made it 2-0 by skating into the slot and using a few moves to get a shot off that found the net at 13:26.
"Sometimes we've got to be stronger on pucks," Letizia said.
"We had some turnovers that led to their chances."
The Black Bears made it 3-0 in controversial fashion. Maryland defenseman Sean Kilcullen was shoved into Rajalin-Sharp and both fell to the ice, with Kilcullen on top of the goaltender for a few seconds.
As Rajalin-Scharp attempted to regain his footing, Piku put in his second goal of the game and 16th of the season at 7:59 of the second.
"It's a tough call," Letizia said.
"There is some contact around the net. The ref saw it."
"I don't think we played great before that play. We had turnovers at our blue line. They kept the puck in our zone where we could have gotten it out. Eventually it leads to that and they get an opportunity to score."
Neither team scored the rest of the period, but the final minutes still were eventful.
Johnstown defenseman Ethan Perrault landed a series of punches in a fight with McNeil at 18:14. The 1st Summit Arena crowd roared in approval.
But before the 'Hawks could build on the momentum, Maryland's Brayden Stannard fought Johnny Ulicny, taking him to the ice, 4 seconds after the ensuing faceoff. Both received game misconducts for a "staged fight."
"The first one, we applied a check and their guy comes after our guy," Letizia said. "Ethan handled himself well. The next one, off the faceoff, the guy bull-rushes Johnny and cross-checks him. In those positions, what are you going to do? You have to stand up for yourself.
"Neither of those guys backed down."
Kaleb Tiessen scored with 1:23 left to set the final.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. on Saturday at 1st Summit Arena.
"We have to do a 180 from what it was today," Letizia said. "You put eight pretty good ones together. If you get 8 of 10, it's an .800 clip. (Maryland) is a very good hockey team and it's not just going to happen. We have to get back to the way we've been playing and what made us successful."
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.