It had been nearly two months and 24 games since Dan Collins had played for the Johnstown Chiefs.
Collins made his return a memorable one during Johnstown’s 7-4 victory over the Toledo Walleye in front of 2,700 fans at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Friday.
The third-year pro from Syracuse, N.Y., scored twice, had four points and rated a plus-4. Collins’ goals each were pivotal. The first came short-handed 6:26 into the second period and pulled the Chiefs within 3-2. The second was the game-winner on a rebound 8:08 into the Chiefs’ five-goal third period.
“Dan is a big part of this team on offense and defense,” said his linemate, Sean Berkstresser, who assisted on both goals. “He’s got some speed. I love playing with him. We’re both pretty quick. We’ve got some chemistry. We’re missing our (injured) center, Matt Myers, but he and I work well together.
“It’s something we have together. We contribute really well together.”
The Chiefs snapped a five-game losing streak on Friday. Their big third period had the crowd into the game and brought some hope to a homestretch that begins with a game against visiting Cincinnati at 2:05 today.
“Everybody is trying to play hard and do what they can for each other,” said Chanse Fitzpatrick, who netted his 29th and 30th goals on Friday. “We have not had any bounces since God knows how long. For us to come out in the third period and perform that way, get some lucky bounces and get some calls, it was awesome.”
Fitzpatrick credited Collins’ return for at least part of the resurgence.
“Dan Collins had a great game,” Fitzpatrick said. “With him, it was good luck all around.”
Chiefs coach Neil Smith said the huge third-period effort probably would not have been possible without Collins’ short-handed goal in the second period.
“He missed two months,” Smith said, referring to a broken bone in Collins’ hand. “It’s great to have him back. I think he inspired the team. He came into the lineup fresh and gave us another dynamic that we maybe were missing. Him and Berkstresser are comfortable together because they played so often together. That really helped us.”
Collins, who had been out since
Jan. 30, felt the Chiefs’ ability to capitalize on both ends of a two-minute
5-on-3 advantage led to the win. Fitzpatrick scored with an assist by Collins to pull Johnstown within 4-3 at 6:01 of the third, and Connor Shields tied the game 11 seconds later.
“The 5-on-3 was big for us to get back in the game,” said Collins, who has nine goals and 28 points in
40 games. “Once we started going, we started believing. We worked hard the whole game. We felt it was our time.
“We earned this one. We didn’t need breaks.”
When the Chiefs added empty-net goals by Jim McKenzie and Fitzpatrick during the final 1:09, the arena erupted with cheers, a scene that was missing too often this season.
“That was like the weight of the world coming off our shoulders,” Collins said. “We had a lot of one-goal games where the other team would come back, force overtime and win the game. That sealed it for us.”
What: Cincinnati vs. Johnstown.
When: 2:05 p.m.
Where: Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
On the air: WNTJ 1490 AM; WNTW 990 AM.
On the Web: www.johnstownchiefs.com.