History of the Great Falls Americans Hockey Team
The Great Falls Americans hockey team started as a junior hockey team that competed in the Western Hockey League during the 1979-1980 season. Originally, the team was the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Oil Kings before moving to Great Falls, Montana. Unfortunately, the team only lasted one season in Great Falls (winning 2 games out of 28) before moving to Spokane, Washington and revived as the Spokane Flyers.
Great Falls landed another junior hockey franchise for the 14 years later and the Kings Americans competed in the American Frontier Hockey League during the 1994-1995 season. After that season, the team became the Great Falls Americans from 1995-2003. The league was known then as the American Frontier Hockey League from 1995-1998 and then they played in the America West Hockey League from 1998-2003. The team played in the Four Seasons Arena at the then- known Montana State Fairgrounds (now called Montana ExpoPark) for each of those eight seasons. They were able to play 410 games compiling a 204-173-6-6-21 (Games Played/Wins/Losses/Overtime Losses/Shootout Losses) with a winning percentage of 0.538.
One of Great Falls’ most successful hockey players in history was Pat Dwyer, who currently players for the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Carolina Hurricanes pro hockey team. He played for the 2000-2001 Great Falls Americans team where he helped the team to a 33-57 record in 40 games played and helped them claim an AWHL championship before heading to college to play for Western Michigan University. To view his career stats and team bio, click here.
Another successful hockey player in the Electric City was our hometown hero, Terry Casey. Terry played a variety of sports at Great Falls High School during his early days including hockey before accepting a college hockey scholarship to the University of North Dakota. Later, he was selected to the USA National Team and competed and team captain for Team USA in the 1968 Winter Olympics. He was later killed in car accident coming home from a softball tournament in Plentywood, Montana. So in honor of him, the Terry Casey Memorial Hockey Cup Tournament began and is still is going strong today. Click here for the link to the Casey Cup Tournament.
The Four Seasons Arena was constructed in 1979 as a multi-purpose sports and exhibition arena and could hold around 6,314 fans. The facility served mainly as an ice rink until 2005 but arena management decided to close the rink after the main refrigeration system failed due to the $1.5 million repairs and upgrades that weren’t affordable for the arena. There were two rinks in the facility including a 33,000 square foot rink and a 17,000 square foot practice rink. The Americans played their last season there in 2003.
Local Great Falls businessman Jim Keough bought an AWHL franchise in 2011 and the Great Falls Americans Junior A hockey team was reborn. The team has played their home contests since the 2011-12 season at the Great Falls Ice Plex, which was opened in November 2008. After winning one game (out of 48) in their inaugural season in the American West Hockey League, the team won 16 games the following year (16-30-2 record).
During the 2013-14 season, the Americans had many talented players on the roster and recorded a 39-13-3 record and their first postseason appearance since the team was brought back ifor the 2011-12 season. Great Falls was led by Aaron McInnis, the 2013-14 AWHL Most Valuable Player and Donovan Mattfeldt, who each was named to the AWHL All-Leage First Team. Jeff Heimel, who in his third season as Head Coach and General Manager of the team, was named the league Coach of the Year.
The Great Falls Americans and the rest of the AWHL teams (Billings Bulls, Glacier Nationals, Bozeman Ice Dogs, Helena Bighorns, Gillette Wild and the Yellowstone Quake) will all move to the North American 3 Hockey League for the 2014-15 season.
During the 2014-15 season, the Great Falls Americans played their first year in the NA3HL (North American 3 Hockey League) and ended up winning the regular season Frontier Division Title and the team title in the 2015 Frontier Divisional Playoffs. They swept the Billings Bulls in the Divisional Semi-Finals (2-0) and earned a two-game sweep over their rivals, the Helena Bighorns for the Divisional Championship Series. The team advanced to the 2015 NA3HL Silver Cup Round Robin Tournament in Geneva, Illinois where they fell in three straight contests in the round robin tournament.
The Americans finished with a team record of 38-13-3 (20-5-1 at home/18-5-2 on the road). The 2014-15 edition featured players such as Evan Hauser, a goaltender who was promoted to the NAHL, Lauren Massie, Great Falls native Connor Barta, Erik Gatson (who was an assistant coach in 2015-16 with Great Falls), Lucas Stover (2015 All-Frontier Division Team selection), and Lucas Lomax (2015 All-Frontier Division Team and All NA3HL 3rd Team selections).
The Great Falls Americans finished their second season in the NA3HL (North American 3 HockeyLeague) during the 2015-16 season as the NA3HL Frontier Divisional champions for the second straight year. This time the team finished the regular season with a 34-11-2 record. They were one of four teams in the Frontier to clinch a playoff spot along with the Bozeman Ice Dogs and the two teams from Wyoming (Yellowstone Quake and the Gillette Wild). Great Falls met Bozeman in the Frontier Divisional Semi-Finals where they won two straight games to sweep the series against the Ice Dogs. The Americans faced a tough challenge from the regular season divisional champions, the Yellowstone Quake. Jeff Heimel’s squad was able to win two games and advanced to the 2016 NA3HL Silver Cup Tournament in Illinois for the second straight year. After going 0-3 in the 2014-15 season at the Silver Cup, Graet Falls won two out of their four games including an appearance in the national semifinals.
Two Americans were announced as recipients for some year-end awards by the NA3HL. Ricards Bernhards was named the 2015-16 Forward of the Year in Frontier Division. The native of Jelgava, Latvia also was selected to the All-Frontier Division team and on the All- NA3HL Second team. Tanner Congdon, hailing from Anchorage, Alaska, led the Americans in scoring with 64 points in 44 contests and was the Rookie of the Year in the Frontier and in the NA3HL. The forward made the 2015-16 All NA3HL Rookie team. Click here to see the press release for the 2016 NA3HL season awards.
In April, Americans head coach and general manager, Jeff Heimel signed a two-year extension to stay with the Frontier champions through the 2017-18 season. (See the GF Tribune Article by clicking here).
Americans retire Williamson’s No. 11 Jersey in 2014
The Great Falls Americans retired just their second number in club history during the first intermission of Saturday, December 20, 2014 at home contest against Bozeman.
In addition to Terry Casey’s jersey, the Americans have now retired Joseph Sam Williamson’s No. 11 game jersey.
Williamson, the center and team captain for Great Falls, played from 1955 until the mid-1960’s on a team that also featured Casey.
The Americans all-time leading scorer was also on the 1952 United States Men’s National Team.
Read the full release and see the photo by clicking here.
Through the Years: Great Falls Teams
1979-80: Great Falls Americans (Western Hockey League): Record: 2-25-1
1994-95: Kings Americans (American Frontier Hockey League): Record: Not Announced
1995-03: Great Falls Americans (American Frontier Hockey League): Record: 204-173-6-6-21
- 1995-96: Great Falls Americans (American Frontier Hockey League): Record: Not Announced
- 1996-97: Great Falls Americans (American Frontier Hockey League): Record: 17-36-6
- 1997-98: Great Falls Americans (American Frontier Hockey League): Record: 27-28-0-0-5
- 1998-99: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 37-20-0-3-0
- 1990-00: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 33-17-0-0-8
- 2000-01: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 42-11-0-2-5
- 2001-02: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 29-24-0-1-2
- 2002-03: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 19-36-0-0-1
2011-12: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 1-48-0
2012-13: Great Falls Americans (American West Hockey League): Record: 16-30-2