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GF Tribune: Americans drop finale; Billings beats Great Falls in playoff preview

GF Tribune: Americans drop finale; Billings beats Great Falls in playoff preview

 

By Lee Vernoy (lvernoy@greatfallstribune.com)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

As far as the standings in the Frontier Division of the North American Tier 3 Hockey League go, Sunday’s match between the Great Falls Americans and the Billings Bulls didn’t mean a whole lot.

After all, the Americans put the wraps on the regular season championship Friday night against Glacier. Billings finished fourth, which means the Bulls will make a return trip to the IcePlex Thursday for Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs.

For the record, Billings won Sunday’s game 2-1 behind first period goals from Ralfs Karelis and Josh Neumann, as well as Cole Semchak redirecting 51 of the 52 shots he faced.

No, Sunday’s game was more for giving the big guns on the Americans a breather while giving the younger player some serious ice time heading into Game One of the best-of-three series.

“A lot of our top guys had gone to the Top Prospects tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., this week,” Americans coach Jeff Heimel said, referring to Lauren Massie, Lucas Lomax, Cody Page, Josh Larson, Miles Giorgione and Arseny Ivanov.

“It was a fun game to get some other guys who have worked very, very hard, and for them to see some different roles that they haven’t been in,” Heimel said. “And it was good. We played hard, and it was fun.

“At the end of the day, we know what we’re looking to this coming Thursday. We’re just excited to have home ice in the playoffs, and to have the opportunity to compete for a championship.”

Jordan Moran got a start in goal for the Americans (34-10-3, 71 points), and held his own, despite giving up two goals in the first stanza. He stopped the other 17 tries.

“He’s an excellent goaltender,” Heimel said of the 6-3, 195-pound, 19-year-old goalie from Prior Lake, Minn. “We had a couple of bounces go their way, but Jordan looked good out there. He settled in.

“It was a pretty uneventful game.”

Uneventful in that the officials weren’t blowing a lot of whistles, very few penalties (those called were minor infractions), and it was quick: the entire 60 minutes of hockey was played in just a fraction more than two hours.

One of those penalties helped the Americans to their only goal, as Malachi Bushey found the nylon with help from Robert Kalata and Hunter Garris, with about five minutes remaining. And despite pulling Moran out of the net for an extra skater with 42 seconds left, the Americans couldn’t get the equalizer across.

That’s because Semchak was equal to the task on the Billings end of the ice, redirecting or stopping 51 of the 52 Great Falls shots.

“(Semchak) looked really good tonight, and that’s exciting,” Heimel added. “We’re sitting out our first line, and to have that type of production … but we’ll probably see (Semchak) a lot during the playoffs, and we have to find a way to get a couple of goals.

“I guarantee we’ll see him in Game One, I’m sure.”

Game One of the Frontier Division semifinals is Thursday at 7 p.m. at the IcePlex. Everyone is back to 0-0-0 records, and Heimel said his group is at full strength, injury-free, and excited.

“It’s doesn’t matter who we play,” Heimel said. “You have to come ready to play. You have to win tight games. It’s not about the best talented team anymore; it’s about the more cohesive team. It’s about who’s willing to sacrifice more. It’s about who’s willing to get to the dirty areas, because that’s all that matters at this point.

“It’s a new season. And we’ve got a lot to prove.”

Billings2 0 0 — 2

Great Falls0 0 1 — 1

First period — 1. Billings, Ralfs Karelis (Cole Emery, Reed Kaiser), 12:24. 2. Billings, Josh Neumann (Tristan Henrichs), 16:43.

Second period — no scoring.

Thrd period — 3. Great Falls, Malachi Bushey (Robert Kalata, Hunter Garris), 14:48 (pp).

Shots on goal by period — Billings 8-7-4—19. Great Falls 18-18-16—52.

Power play opportunites — Billings 0-for-1. Great Falls 1-for-2.

Goalies (shots/saves) — Billings, Cole Semchak (52 shots/51 saves). Great Falls, Jordan Moran (19 shots/17 saves).

A—715.

Attached Photo: Courtesy of Larry Beckner, Tribune Photographer