February 29, 2016

Johnstown-Aston Rivalry Gets Heated and Could Get Worse

There’s nothing quite like a hockey rivalry. The excitement, the energy, the hate, that goes into it is not only something special for the teams involved but the fans of both sides as well. Sometimes a rivalry is made based on the games the two teams play against each other. Other times, different factors come into the equation that morphs two teams into bitter enemies. Distance between the two teams, schedule, and refereeing are just a few things that can take things to the next level.

For Aston and Johnstown, everything has factored into these two teams building a healthy hatred for each other. With about one month to go in the NAHL season things are only going to get more heated between these two teams. Why that is, and what needs to be done to make sure things don’t get completely out of hand, I’ll break down later in this article. First, let’s take a look back to this past weekend and the “press release” that Aston posted on their official team page about Saturday night’s game.

This game recap from Aston we shared on our Facebook page and everyone in Johnstown had a field day with it. It’s filled with inaccuracies and a ton of whining, something you’d expect to see from a blog (not this one, we’re very classy) not from an official organization.

For the people who may have missed it, or the ones that would like to know the real information, my first thoughts about reading it was as followed:

  • unprofessional
  • Makes Aston’s players and Coaches look bad
  • probably written by an intern
  • probably written by someone that wasn’t at the game, and only looked at the boxscore (which wasn’t correct)

Funny enough, when I started writing this article I headed over to Aston’s website to have the press release in front of me when I quoted it. To my surprise the game recap has been edited. Gone is the statement at the beginning where the recap tried to blame the Johnstown fan’s of causing Austin Swingle injury.

Gone is the line saying Hudson was thrown out of the game in the first period only to return in the third to get into another fight.

Gone is the wording that Johnstown basically went into the game looking to goon it up.

After everyone calmed down from the crazy weekend, did cooler (and smarter) minds go back and edit the story and take the raw emotion out of the recap? Did the NAHL step in and tell the team it’s a poor reflection on the league to have something like that on one of their team’s websites?

Does it really matter? Not really. To be honest the only thing that really matters is the game itself. Aston came into Johnstown and took three out of four points on the weekend. Does a battle of words make things more fun and build the rivalry. Yes! And as a fan, that made it exciting.
Let’s take a deep breath and put this game recap to bed. It was written, edited, and now it’s over. But what lead to it being written? Obviously the the heated play on the ice and the injury to Aston forward, Austin Swingle.

If you’re a Johnstown fan or an Aston fan we can all agree that we’re all happy to hear that Austin Swingle seems to be doing okay, all things considered. You never want to see a player of any age, for any team, be severely injured. Swingle has a concussion and a snore neck, but should return to the ice as some point. That’s great to hear.

Now, this bitter rivalry didn’t start from the hit Alex Alger laid on Swingle in the second period. No, this has been building since the exhibition games this season.

If you remember, the Tomahawks played two pre-season games vs Aston, and both of those were very physical and even included an old fashioned line brawl in the second game. For whatever reason, right from the start these two teams had a dislike for each other.

One of those reasons could be the amount of games the two teams play against each other. With the way the NAHL works, other than the Showcase at the start of the year, and a trip to Alaska, the East Division only plays games among itself. When there’s only four team in the division, this means you’re playing the same three teams every weekend. That right there is reason enough to start building a rivalry with each other.

Another factor is the way the East Division team’s are built. There are twenty-two teams in the NAHL. Out of those teams, there are six teams with over a thousand penalty minutes. Four of those teams play in the East Division. Not surprisingly, Johnstown leads the league with 1,294.

The East is built tough. Things are only going to get more physical in the playoffs, which if you don’t already know, every team in the east automatically makes the playoffs this year. With all four teams making the playoffs even before the season started, this year has been all about battling for home ice advantage. The team that finishes first in the division will play the fourth seeded team. Two will host the third.

If the standings would stay as is, New Jersey would host Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Aston would host Johnstown. More on that later.

These East teams aren’t afraid to drop the gloves, even if it comes with an automatic fifteen-minute penalty. The leading team fight leaders in the NAHL sit with nineteen. That’s a tie between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Johnstown. New Jersey has 14 for 4th in the league and Aston has 13 for 5th.

You probably can guess which players lead the league in fighting majors. Logan Hudson sits at the top with seven. Doyan with five. Guess who’s tied with Doyan’s five. Yep, Aston’s forward, Swingle.

Back in November, Swingle and Hudson dropped the gloves with each other at the War Memorial. If you remember, Hudson knocked out Swingle.
In the original game recap for Saturday’s game, they made it sound like Swingle is a playmaking forward that never participates in the rough stuff. That just isn’t true. Now I’m not saying that as a way to make in injury this past weekend justifiable, but what I am saying, he is a tough customer and is use to the physical side of hockey.

Swingle stands at 6’3, 230. He’s already got pro size at the junior level. He also has some skill to his game. In 44 games he has 14 points and leads his team in penalty minutes with 117. Swingle is a team guy, just like Hudson, hence why his whole team stayed on the ice until they knew he was going to be okay. He’s the type of guy you want on your team, because he battles and sticks up for the other guys wearing his jersey.

That’s also the reason you have to believe that his teammates will be looking for some revenge next time they face the Tomahawks, which will only make things even more tense.

The Tomahawks and Aston play four more games against each other this season. Those four games are all back to back. It’ll be like a mini playoff series right before the real playoffs. If these two teams, meet in the playoffs, they’ll play in a best of five series. So in the span of the next few weeks, two teams that don’t like each other, could possibly see each other nine more times.

Grab your popcorn, this should be entertaining.

You might have missed it on Friday night, but after the second period buzzer sounded, Aston’s head coach and Johnstown’s assistant coach shared not so friendly words with each other. After the game, they did it again with the ref having to come in between the two to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. A good rivalry doesn’t involve just the players, but the coaches as well.

The exact seasoning why the coaches weren’t seeing things eye to eye isn’t a hundred percent but if you watch the game closely, as I try to do, you can get an idea of what it might have been about.

On Saturday it was no doubt the hit that left Swingle being carried off on a medical stretcher. Reports from several sources say that the Aston coach found himself trying to get into the Tomahawks locker room twice, but being escorting away both times. I can’t say this did happen, but it sounds like something that might have taken place.

As for Friday, what might have ticked Shackford off towards Aston’s head coach was the way his team was reacting after scoring their goals. In the second period Aston’s Cusin scored to put his team up 2-1. As he skated towards the glass to celebrate with his teammates he pulled a Max Talbot and tried to shush the crowd.

Then when the Rebels scored yet again towards the end of the second period to go up 4-1, Yakovlev had some taunting words towards Zak Galambos. This resulted in the ref handing Yakovlev a ten-minute misconduct.

The way Aston was “disrespecting” the Tomahawks in their own arena is probably why Shackford tried to take matters into his own hands.
On Friday, the ref did a decent job keeping the game under control. That was not the case on Saturday. As the game went on you could tell that it was only a matter of time until someone got seriously injured. Sadly, the ref didn’t step in in time and that’s just what happened.

In the first period, the ref did try and do his best to keep things from getting out of hand. Johnstown’s Picek was given two penalties. Both were the right call, though instead of calling tripping the first time, the more oppropreit call would have been charging. On Picek’s second penalty he once again charged from the blue line and ran an Aston player into the wall. This time, he has giving a hitting from behind penalty and a ten minute misconduct.

Later in the period, Hudson and Yakovlev dropped the gloves after a battle in front of the net. Both guys were will participants, with Yakovlev connecting with most of the punches. When the linesmen stepped in to break up the fight, neither player stopped fighting. The ref, made the correct call and on top of the fighting majors gave each player an additional ten minute misconduct for continuing the altercation. This gave both players 25-minutes in penalty and they did not return until the third period.

In the second period, it appeared that the Tomahawks had finally scored their first goal of the game. But the ref waved it off, citing goaltender interference. Even though, I’m a Johnstown fan, as soon as the puck went into the net I knew it was going to be waved offed. From my view it appears the ref got the call right.

Well, the Tomahawks felt otherwise and had words with the ref and what they felt was a blown call. In the arguing Drew Doyan got too heated, as he’s done in the past, and got himself ejected. Again, this was the right call. You can only throw a fit for so long. This isn’t the first time Doyan got himself ejected for yelling at the ref. This is something he must find a way to control. He can’t help out his team sitting in the locker room.

With the goal waved off, and penalties racking up against Johnstown, they started to play with some passion. As the game went on and on you could see something big was going to happen and all hell was going to break loose.

The ref put away the whisler. With each non call the hits got bigger and bigger. Lynch tooks a stick up to the face, which was not called. Lynch is a great player and just as good of an agitator. You never know if he’s really hurt or just trying to get a call and under the other team’s skin. This time, though it did appear to be legitimate, but the ref didn’t call it.

The hits kept coming and they were getting bigger and bigger.

Alger had the puck by the boards and took a big hit from behind from Swingle. No call. Alger got back up and rejoined the play. He skated across the ice and hit Swingle by the penalty box. The two had a few words with each other as they skated into the Tomahawks zone. Swingle, went into the corner to play the puck, and that’s when Alger checked him.

At first both teams stood around, some not seeing what had happened. Once they did, things started to get heated. We were on the verge of a line brawl. Luckily at this point, things quieted down.

Alger was ejected and the Aston Rebels were given a five minute powerplay.

The power play was interrupted when Lynch fell to the ice after taking a tomahawk chop to the head. The ref called it, making sure we didn’t have an all out donnybrook.

Johnstown came out of the intermission and worked hard blocking shots, and found a way to kill off the rest of the  major. They had the momentum.

The game was now 2-1.

Then during a line change several players started cross checking each other and a fight broke out. Hunter took on Bellant, the player who had chopped Lynch in the head.

Away from the fight another one broke out between O’Brien and Underwood. This one supposedly started after Underwood, who wears a cag, spit on O’Brien. All players were ejected.

The Tomahawks were battling together as a team and found a way to tie the game.

In overtime Horn used his speed and put a nice shot against the goalie and got the game winner.

The Tomahawks were beyond happen. Aston was anything but. The coaches, who usually shake hands after every game, did not. This game solidified the hate both teams have for each other.

After the game was over I couldn’t help but think, “Thank god, Wood no longer plays for Aston”. If you remember Wood, was the short blond haired kid that agitated Johnstown so many times earlier in the season. After he speared a guy and got ejected (in a game not against Johnstown) he was dealt to Odessa.

Could you imagine how out of hand that game could have gotten if he was still with the Rebels?

So now what?

As said before, these teams will play four games back to back in the middle of March. The only way those games don’t get out of hand is if the ref’s are on their game. I suspect everything will be called, whether it’s a penalty or not. If the ref doesn’t do this we could see few line brawls.

With that said, there’s only so much a ref can do. Playoff positioning will be on the line. Aston will be looking for some redemption, and the teams will be looking to get an edge on one another if they so happen to meet in the first round of the playoffs.

This rivially didn’t start on Saturday night, but it was taken to the next level. Can it get even worse from here?


Anonymous said...

For a team that had Connor Wood on its' roster, it is easy to understand why many Johnstown fans thought that Swingle was faking his injury. Wood drew many penalties with his acting abilities.

Anonymous said...

Once it was apparent that Swingle was not faking an injury, the crowd became quiet and respectful.