Thomas Jefferson hockey standout picked by Johnstown Tomahawks in NAHL draft

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Saturday, July 24, 2021 | 8:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson coach John Zeiler has inherited a team that finished 17-2-1 and advanced to the PIHL Class AA semifinals in 2020-21.

One player he will be without and surely miss is Hunter Fairman, the team’s leading scorer as a senior forward last season.

Fairman, 18, was selected by the Johnstown Tomahawks in the NAHL Entry Draft, which took place July 14. The 6-foot-2, 160-pound TJ grad was chosen in the 16th round.

“I was a little surprised to be drafted,” Fairman said, “but I have worked hard for so long and now have a chance to go show what I can do. It’s exciting to be drafted by an NAHL team, given the fact that there are so many players out there like me trying to take their game to the next level.

“This was for sure one of my dreams in my hockey career, to be given a chance to play at the junior level and show what I’ve got.”

Each NAHL team chose players largely based upon scouting throughout the season to fill the team’s needs.

“I’m happy that Hunter is going to get the opportunity to play Tier II Junior A hockey,” said Bill Crousey, TJ’s longtime coach who retired following the 2020-21 season. “It’s an opportunity many kids playing AAA hockey hope to get.

“I hope Hunter has a strong camp tryout and makes the team. It will be difficult, but I believe he has the ability to play at that level.”

Overall, Johnstown selected 18 players in 17 rounds. The Tomahawks won the regular-season title in their division last season before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

“Johnstown plays Tier II junior hockey,” Crousey said. “They have advanced many kids to the NCAA Division 1 or 3 levels. … Hunter will be taking a big step towards playing NCAA hockey if he can make that team. It will be a challenge, but I have no doubt he will give them his best.”

The NAHL consists of 29 teams in four divisions. Johnstown is a member of the East Division, along with the Jamestown Rebels, Maine Nordiques, Maryland Black Bears, Northeast Generals, New Jersey Titans and Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks.

Johnstown is the closest NAHL franchise to the Pittsburgh area and the only one in Pennsylvania.

The NAHL is one of the top junior hockey leagues in the United States and the only Tier II level junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey. It will begin its 47th season in September.

“The NAHL is a very fast and very physical junior league,” Fairman said. “I have been to a bunch of games to watch the Tomahawks play and have followed them throughout the years.

“My expectation is to go up to camp and compete every time I step on the ice to show I can play at that level.”

“Fast and physical” partly describes Fairman’s ice acumen.

He was known as an aggressive player at TJ and led the Jaguars with 60 penalty minutes in 2019-20. Fairman toned it down for his senior season, being hit with nine two-minute penalties.

“I think Hunter has a very good skillset and skates well,” Crousey said. “He also plays with an edge, which should help him compete at the junior level.”

Fairman and teammate Eddie Pazo ranked 1-2 in PIHL Class AA scoring in 2020-21 with 62 and 54 points. Fairman logged 34 goals and 28 assists; Pazo’s numbers were 22 and 32.

The Jaguars outscored the opposition 137-43 and were led offensively by Fairman, Pazo, Riley Holzer, Will O’Brien and Ryan Kelly.

Along with the five high-scoring forwards, TJ also was sparked by goaltender Luke Ripepi, forward Luke Rayman and defensemen Brady Rotolo and Jake Gardiner.

Fairman was the PIHL’s overall leading scorer last season with 38 goals and 30 assists, after registering 23 goals and 25 assists as a junior. He then logged 21 goals and 36 assists for the Esmark Stars 18U AAA team.

Fairman knows what he needs to display at Johnstown to make the squad.

“Definitely being more physical, making smart plays and scoring are what I will need to do,” he said. “I must earn my spot on the team; nothing will just get handed to me.”

Fairman is the son of Eric and Lisa Fairman. Lisa is the girls basketball coach and girls tennis assistant at TJ. Hunter has three older siblings: TJ grads Eric, Alysa and Garret, who is a TJ girls basketball assistant and freshman baseball coach, plus younger sister Graci, a senior point guard and one of the WPIAL’s top players. Graci is a two-sport standout at TJ in basketball and softball.

All five siblings have strong athletic backgrounds.

Eric and Garret played football, basketball and baseball in high school. Eric starred in baseball and was an All-American at Cal (Pa.) before jumping into the coaching ranks. Garret is a redshirt senior defensive end on the Robert Morris football team.

Alysa competed in volleyball, basketball and softball at TJ and was a senior pitcher/outfielder on the Carlow softball team this spring. Alysa recently earned the program’s first CoSIDA Academic All-District award, attaining her nursing degree with a 3.84 GPA.

She led the Celtics with 29 RBIs and had a .321 batting average and in the pitcher’s circle compiled a 3.89 ERA over 90 innings.

Hunter Fairman, meanwhile, hopes to eventually play hockey at the collegiate level.

“Growing up, baseball was my favorite sport and I loved to play it,” he said. “When I was young, I had severe allergies and eye problems which inevitably made me quit. It was hard as a young kid to have something you loved to do be taken away, but then hockey came into my life and it has truly become more than just a sport to me.

“I’d like to thank all my coaches through the years that have helped me become the player and person I am today and helping me achieve this goal.”

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