The Wenatchee Wild bused to Seattle and then took two different airplane flights before reaching Johnstown for Friday night’s NAHL game.
Wild coach Bliss Littler felt his West Division-leading team was outplayed by the Johnstown Tomahawks and even suggested his boys had an overall lackluster performance.
But the Wild did enough to win 3-1 after scoring the game’s first two goals and riding a
22-save performance by goaltender Robert Nichols.
“I thought we were God-awful tonight,” Littler said. “I give Johnstown a lot of credit. I thought they had a great game plan and they probably deserved a better fate. We weren’t very good. We stole two points.”
Obviously, the standard is pretty high in Wenatchee. Most in a crowd of 2,010 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena probably were impressed by the Wild’s quick strike offense and skill level, not to mention Nichol’s play in his 28th win of the season.
“They did well possessing the puck,” Tomahawks coach Jason Spence said. “They took advantage of a couple breakdowns. They were shooting the puck in the right places. They have a really good hockey team and they took advantage of a couple spots.
“We really came to play in the third period. Maybe we needed that life and that heart the whole game.”
The Tomahawks outshot the Wild 12-3 in the final period and put plenty of pressure on Nichols, who was tied for the league lead in wins after Friday’s effort.
“Their goaltender is one of the best in the league,” Spence said. “A shot here or there and we’re right back in it.”
Wenatchee built a two-goal lead on first-period goals by Trace Redmond 3:11 into the game and Jacob Barber, who was credited with the goal after the puck caromed off a Johnstown player and got past goalie Chris Truehl.
“The one goal was unfortunate. Our backchecker was skating back and it went off of his leg,” Spence said.
The Tomahawks seemed to get the spark they needed after Mitch Hall scored a short-handed goal 53 seconds into the second period to make it 2-1.
“(Cody Gylling) won the faceoff to Hall, and Hall’s got a great, quick shot,” Spence said. “He got it right in the top corner.”
Wenatchee’s Joe Sullivan reestablished the two-goal lead at 10:29 of the second.
“That was kind of a big goal for us,” Littler said. “They were coming pretty hard. They keep their game real simple, no doubt about that. They forecheck hard and give a good effort. I thought we were fortunate to get that second one up on them.”
The rest was up to Nichols, who had a 1.96 goals against average entering the game.
“He’s as good as anybody in the league,” Littler said. “He’s legit. It doesn’t matter what junior league, he’s legit. He definitely saved us tonight.”
The Wild is 34-7-4 with 72 points. Wenatchee is an impressive 16-2-1 on the road. The teams meet again at 7 tonight at the War Memorial. Johnstown is 22-17-10, 12-9-4 at home.
Spence is counting on his players to build on the third period effort when the teams meet again.
“We were acting instead of reacting,” Spence said of the final 20 minutes. “We were forcing their hand instead of watching what they were doing and acting towards it. We were in there quicker on the forecheck and not giving them time and space.”