WATCH VIDEO | Johnstown Tomahawks coach 'excited to write a new chapter'

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Jared Kersner’s name didn’t enter discussions until weeks into the search for the next coach of the Johnstown Tomahawks.

But majority owner John Koufis knew he had his man after he reviewed Kersner’s credentials and spoke to the 39-year-old coach/general manager of the New Jersey Rockets in the National Collegiate Developmental Conference.

“Like most things that you go through in life, sometimes the answer presents itself and you don’t really have to dig too far,” Koufis said, referring to Kersner’s hiring as head coach and general manager of the 13th-year North American Hockey League franchise. “The answer is usually the one that is most obvious, right in front of you.”

After a six-week search, the Tomahawks introduced Kersner to fans, billets and the media during a Tuesday gathering at the Stars & Stripes Lounge at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial Arena.

Kersner will replace Mike Letizia, who resigned as head coach and GM of the team April 15 following his 10th season as head coach and 12th year with the organization.

“A really special place to coach,” Kersner said of Johnstown. “When that opportunity presented itself to me, I attacked it. I wanted this job. I couldn’t be happier or more excited to be here to continue the traditions of Johnstown hockey, whether it be from pro to now junior.

“This is an incredible honor and a privilege to coach here in this community and the city. I’m looking forward to the future.”

Like many other hockey players, Kersner received his introduction to Johnstown through the fictional Charlestown Chiefs in the 1977 motion picture “Slap Shot,” which was based on the 1974-75 Johnstown Jets and filmed in the city.

But over the years, Kersner had a more pertinent role in the city’s hockey fortunes. He said 10 to 15 of his former players with the Rockets or the Skipjacks 18-Under AAA club eventually advanced to the NAHL and played with the Tomahawks.

In 2023-24, goaltender Zack Ferris and Cade Baker were former Kersner players who had key roles with Letizia’s Tomahawks.

“(Being) Born in 1985 and being a hockey player, the movie ‘Slap Shot’ was my favorite movie growing up,” Kersner said. “That’s really what put Johnstown on the map until I got really into coaching.

“Through my years of coaching, I’ve had probably 10 to 15 former players that have come through here. I’ve always followed this team extremely closely. Their feedback and their experiences here is something I could not be more excited to be in the middle of it and be involved in the community and to be involved with the fans.”

The Tomahawks went 36-21-3 and finished in fourth place in the East Division in 2023-24. The Tomahawks lost in the first round of the NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs.

Letizia’s teams won a franchise-record 338 games and reached the playoffs six times in nine opportunities. Letizia earned one NAHL coach of the year honor and three division coach of the year awards.

Ten players on the 2023-24 team aged out. Kersner and Koufis each said two others have opted to sign in the British Columbia Hockey League.

The Tomahawks will have holes to fill, which isn’t unusual in a junior league. The NAHL Entry Draft will take place June 12.

“Every team is different from year to year,” Kersner said. “Mike (Letizia) did some really good things here.

“I have my way of doing things, and I’m excited to write a new chapter for the Tomahawks and get us to the next level where I’m sure we all want to be.”

Kersner said the team must put in the work on and off the ice. He’ll count on leaders to emerge.

“Step 1 is what I call building a championship culture. I describe that as a leadership pathway,” Kersner said of the approach he used with his Rockets teams the past two seasons. “Leaders create the culture, the culture drives the behavior and the behavior is going to produce the results that we’re looking for.

“Really, establishing that culture through our core values and then having a level of standards inside of our behavior is really what’s going to produce the results we’re looking for here in Johnstown.”

A native of Rockville, Maryland, who currently resides in York with his wife Brandis and two daughters, Kersner played forward from 2006-10 with Becker College, then a NCAA Division III program in Worcester, Massachusetts.

In 2022, Kersner took over as head coach and GM of the Rockets after his brother Jason Kersner, who held those same titles, left the Bridgewater, New Jersey, club to accept a job with the United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers.

He also has head coaching experience with Skipjacks Hockey 18-Under AAA (2021-22); Skipjacks Hockey 16-Under AAA (2014-15, 2018-19); Washington Little Caps 18-Under AAA (2012-14); and the DC Caps 18-Under AAA (2011-12).

“Jared actually came into the process a little bit late,” Koufis said. “We had already gone through two or three weeks, and then the email dings, and it’s Jared’s cover letter and email. It became quickly evident that this was someone we should take a much closer look at primarily because of the understanding of today’s junior landscape.

“Today’s junior landscape is significantly different than it was even two or three years ago,” Koufis said. “The BCHL has broken off of Hockey Canada and they’re doing a significant amount of poaching of players from our league, and they’re not beholden to transfer rules. We’ve lost a couple players to the BCHL. My fellow owners have lost more. We’re not only competing with other teams in our league, we’re competing with other leagues as well.”

Kersner said he is eager to begin the building process.

“Make not only great hockey players, but make great people, great students,” Kersner said. “Eventually, hockey is going to be over for them. Hopefully they can get lessons through this hockey vehicle to make them great fathers and great husbands one day as well.”

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.