Americans win seventh game in a row
By Kevin Scott
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HELENA, Mont., December 9, 2016 — The Great Falls Americans (16-3-1-2) and the Helena Bighorns (7-15-1) have met only twice prior to tonight’s game during the 2016-17 season.
Great Falls needed just five goals in each of those games to come out on top. The Americans earned a 5-0 shutout in late October followed by a 5-3 win a month later in November.
Danny O’Donnell, Brendan Jester and Tanner Congdon lead the Americans team by accumulating over 30 points after 22 games this year. Meanwhile, Bradley Estrada is the team leader in points and assists for coach Bob Richards’ Bighorns. He has 19 goals and has dished out 14 assists for the sixth-place team in the Frontier Division.
Forwards Sandis Mezharaups, Malachi Bushey and Jens Juliussen each scored to propel the Great Falls Americans to their sixteenth season victory with a 3-1 decision over the Helena Bighorns during Friday’s NA3HL action at the Helena Ice Arena. The 975 spectators saw the Americans win their seventh road game in eight tries.
After a scoreless first period that saw the visiting Americans out-shoot the home team, 22-7, Great Falls took a 1-0 with Sandis Mezharaups 17th goal of the season 5:48 into the middle period. Matt Janke and former Missoula Bruins forward Payton McSharry were credited with the assists. McSharry and Jens Juliussen came to the Americans from the Missoula NA3HL franchise this past week. Great Falls made Helena goaltender Alex Kruger work between the pipes during the first forty minutes. The visiting team secured one goal and took 43 shots while holding the Bighorns to 14.
The Americans registered two more goals in the final period. Malachi Bushey and Jens Juliussen each received one goal apiece. Mitchell Ramstad and Dustin Truex picked up assists on Bushey’s tally with 8:35 remaining in the contest. Juliussen, who had two goals playing for Missoula, scored during his debut for Great Falls moments after Bushey’s tenth goal of the year. Danny O’Donnell set up the scoring drive for the Americans third point. Helena prevented the Americans from picking up their third straight shutout when forward Kyle Hayter got the puck past Americans goalie Nick Nast with under two minutes left in regulation. Bradley Estrada assisted on the lone score for the Bighorns.
Both teams combined for seven power plays but neither squad found the back of the net.
Great Falls racked up 59 shots-on-goal including 16 in the last stanza. Helena finished with 27 shots with 13 coming in the third period.
The winning team incurred five minor penalties resulting in 10 minutes of penalty time. Both penalties for Helena came during the second period.
Goaltender Nick Nast recorded his eighth victory in 11 games stopping 26 of the 27 shots that Helena sent his way. Alex Kruger added 56 saves to his season total of 411.
NEXT CONTEST: The Americans will play their last home game on Saturday, December 10th against the Helena Bighorns before next week’s NA3HL Showcase Tournament in Minnesota. The NA3HL contest at the Great Falls Ice Plex starts at 7:30PM. Their final home contest of the year will be on New Year’s Eve (Saturday, Dec. 31st) against the Missoula Jr Bruins.