The line of Luke Lynch, Cameron Hebert and Roman Kraemer skated into the offensive zone at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial on Friday afternoon.
The trio, wearing red jerseys and dark blue helmets made a few passes and took a shot on the net.
The scene was similar to many that unfolded over the past few seasons at the War Memorial.
Only this time, the three players wore the Colonials logo of Robert Morris University across the front of their practice jerseys instead of the familiar Johnstown Tomahawks threads.
“These three guys meant so much to our program,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said after the Colonials concluded a practice session in preparation for Saturday’s College Hockey Classic game against Ontario Tech at 7 p.m. at the War Memorial.
“They’re at various stages of their careers,” Letizia said. “To see them first-hand back at the arena is really a special moment for me as a coach.
“They were a big part of the community and everyone is excited to see them back.”
All three former Tomahawks used their time in Johnstown to earn a spot with the Colonials coached by Derek Schooley, who also is familiar with 1st Summit Arena from his time as an ECHL player with the Huntington (W.Va.) Blizzard team that played against the Johnstown Chiefs in 1994-95.
Because of the Tomahawks connection, the Pittsburgh-based Colonials program saw an opportunity to play in front of a different hockey-loving audience. The Tomahawks are billing the game as “the first NCAA Division I game played on the ice since the doors opened in 1950.”
“Having three Tomahawk alumni here and with college hockey really on the rise, we wanted to expose central Pennsylvania with another game with Robert Morris and get our brand out there to this neck of the woods,” Schooley said after Friday’s practice.
“We feel we have a really good college hockey program and we wanted to take it on the road to the rest of the state.”
Robert Morris plays in Atlantic Hockey.
The Colonials are 7-5-3 in the conference and 7-8-3 overall.
Lynch is a senior from Pittsburgh who has played in all but one game since his arrival at the Moon Township campus. This season he has a goal and six assists in 18 games.
“It was pretty surreal coming back,” said Lynch, who has 36 career goals and 95 points with the Colonials.
“It’s the only way really to explain it.
“Nobody really gets to play their college games in their junior hockey home arena.”
Hebert and Kraemer were two offensive catalysts on last season’s record-breaking Tomahawks team that produced 47 wins and 98 regular-season points while advancing deep in the Robertson Cup playoffs.
Hebert has a goal and two points in 12 games as a freshman at Robert Morris. Similarly, Kraemer has adapted to college game with one goal in 16 games.
“It’s been a pretty big adjustment,” said Kraemer, who is from Moon Township and is quite at home on campus. “The speed was hard to get used to.
“The game was a lot faster.
“The guys are older. Everyone is stronger now.”
Hebert is from St. Andrew’s West, Ontario, Canada.
But he has enjoyed a family reunion at Robert Morris, where his brother Grant and sister Ally are part of the Colonials men’s and women’s programs, respectively.
“I see my brother every day,” Hebert said. “It’s fun having my sister around too.”
Hebert said the speed and physical side of the game has been elevated at the college level.
“It’s been a big adjustment,” Hebert said. “The biggest part is the strength of all the older guys. Even the first practice instead of going against 18-year-olds, you’re going against 23- and 24-year-olds.
“That was the biggest adjustment for me.”
The former Tomahawks won’t have to adjust to the reception they’re likely to receive on Saturday night.
“Crazy excited,” Hebert said.
“The way it ended last year, with all the fans, who were crazy. They’re the best fans in junior. I’m excited to be back.”
Kraemer said even the practice session stirred emotions.
“I kind of got goosebumps pulling back into the rink,” Kraemer said. “Being here for the past two years, it’s amazing playing here. It’s fun playing here as a kid and it’s fun playing here as a college player too.”