By MATT JORDAN
Everything was in place for the Johnstown Chiefs on Saturday night. More than 3,100 fans passed through the gate, all happy for hockey to be back in season.
But after staking leads twice on the visiting Reading Royals, the Chiefs gave up a short-handed breakaway in the third period and lost 3-2 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Reading’s Mike Pandolfo scored a pair of goals, including the short-handed game-winner, and Rich Peverely had a pair of assists in the victory, which could have been bigger if not for the play of Chiefs netminder Jon Boutin.
The third-round pick in the 2003 draft by the Lightning, Boutin stood on his head early, making several point-blank saves to keep the Chiefs from falling in a hole minutes into the contest.
It was enough to allow Johnstown to get its hockey legs after busing back from a season-opening loss in Columbia, S.C., on Friday.
Once the Chiefs opened up the offense, Tyler Kindle gave the hosts to a 1-0 lead, burying his own rebound past Royals goalie Cody Rudkowsky. Pittsburgh native J.B. Bittner made the chance possible by blocking a Reading odd-man rush, allowing Kindle to turn the puck up ice.
After a quick give-and-go with Joe Tallari along the right-wing boards, Kindle had a one-on-one chance against Rudkowsky. The first shot was saved, but Kindle kept coming and swept it in midway through the first period.
The game stayed in favor of Johnstown until Pandolfo scored his first of the night on the power play, just 1:55 into the second, as he took a pass from Peverely and wristed a shot over Boutin’s glove.
Johnstown’s Zbynek Hrdel pushed the Chiefs out to another lead early in the third period with his first professional tally. Hrdel was camped on the doorstep and took advantage of Tallari’s centering feed, which glanced off a skate to the top of the crease. Ian Manzano also received an assist on the play when he held the puck in at the blue line.
“I’m happy with the goal, but it’s not about the goals,” Hrdel said. “It’s about the team winning and team spirit and I would be more happy if we had won tonight. I’m glad for the goal, but it’s always better to win as a team.”
Faced with their second deficit of the night, the Royals would not go away, impressing coach Karl Taylor.
“Our team just stuck together and did what we do,” he said. “I think it’s easy – when you have pressure and you maybe carry the play a little bit – to get away from what you do well. But I think for the most part, our guys did a good job sticking to that and stayed patient. Then we got a lucky break on a short-handed goal and that turned things our way.”
Reading’s Shay Stephenson pulled the Royals even at 2 when he blistered a pass from Peverely over Boutin’s glove with 14:59 remaining.
“I thought that when we scored the go-ahead goal we tried to get going harder, but I thought Reading tried hard again,” said Frank Anzalone who is now 0-2 as coach of the Chiefs. “Reading did not stop. They kept coming. They seemed to have a lot of confidence about them. They have four or five guys that can really handle the puck and the tying goal is as good a goal as you’re going to see.”
Pandolfo struck again with Johnstown on the power play nearly 4 minutes later. The speedy younger brother of NHL player Jay Pandolfo, the Royal poked the puck past Tallari at the right point and outskated everyone, firing a shot to Boutin’s blocker side that gave Reading its first lead of the game.
Anzalone is confident that even with the two losses to begin the season, the Chiefs will be turning the corner once everyone settles into the new offensive scheme.
“It’s a system that requires a tremendous level of fitness and I think some of our guys right now are hitting a wall, where they’re finding out that ‘Wow, I have to skate every shift,’ ” Anzalone said. “But it’s no excuse for not winning.
“We lost on a breakaway, and that was a bad mistake. Sometimes when your tired, you tend to make those mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make if you weren’t tired.”