GF Tribune: Americans prosper thanks to Alaskan pipeline

GF Tribune: Americans prosper thanks to Alaskan pipeline

By Steve Schreck, sschreck@greatfallstribune.com 

March 23, 2017

After every season, Jeff Heimel hits the road, scouting and scouring the junior hockey scene for roster replenishment.

That road, whether Heimel is physically there or not, always seems to dead end at one place.

Alaska.

Specifically, Anchorage, Alaska.

Twenty players – 18 players and two goalies – suited up for the Americans in their team’s 3-1 playoff win over Gillette last Friday night.

Seven of them were from Alaska, including five from Anchorage, the state’s largest city with roughly 300,000 residents.

“I think a lot of people don’t look up at Alaska very often, honestly,” said Payton McSharry, whose squad faces Yellowstone in Game 2 of the Frontier finals Friday night at 7:30 at the Great Falls IcePlex. “The hockey players are pretty great up there. Heimel noticed that, and he’s locked it down. He’s gotten a lot of good guys from Alaska.”

McSharry is one of them, as are his two wingmen on the top line, Tanner Congdon and Brendan Jester.

“It makes it a lot easier getting here when you know half the team already,” Jester said.

All three hail from Anchorage.

They all attended the same high school.

Even more, McSharry’s and Congdon’s houses shared the same backyard.

When they were younger and the weather cooperated, McSharry’s dad would build a makeshift ice rink for them to hone their games.

“Congdon is very aggressive,” McSharry said, “so he would always try to play one-on-one and he would school me 10-0. It was nice; it was good competition.”

McSharry, one of the team’s most gifted players who tallied 58 points in 41 regular-season games, was asked to confirm that he was beaten that badly, by that much.

“Oh, he would beat you,” said McSharry, who came over from the Missoula Junior Bruins in the middle of the season. “He would beat me pretty good.”

These days, though, that’s what the Americans are doing to their opponents, and at least part of it can be attributed to this recruiting pipeline from Anchorage to Great Falls.

On the ice last Friday night from Anchorage included Congdon, Jester, McSharry, Adam Vandenbos and Jesse Johnson. Logan Parsley (Fairbanks) and Tegan Harrington (Wasilla) also participated.

Kyler Mack, Jens Juliussen and Matt Larson – all from Anchorage – all saw significant action during the regular season.

Jesse Johnson, another Anchorage native and one of the team’s assistant captains, said the move to the Lower 48 was made easier by the familiarity with one another. He came to the Electric City, he said, because the roster was littered with Alaskans.

“We have a lot of good hockey up there,” Johnson said. “We have good talent. Once you get a couple of Alaskans, coach tells us, ‘Hey, if you have any friends who want to come and play let me know.’ So, we just reach out to them and be like, ‘Hey, our team’s pretty good, give us a shot.’ It’s nice having a couple Alaskans and just see it grow from year to year.”

In the second-round series last week, Congdon (6 goals, 2 assists), Jester (5A) and McSharry (2G, 3A) combined for 18 points.

During the regular season, Congdon, Jester and McSharry all finished in the top four as far as point production.

“They’re great hockey players,” McSharry said of his high school pals, “and it’s pretty easy when I can just give Congdon the puck and he goes and scores. So, it’s pretty nice. And Jester’s great as well, and he likes to get the assists. We work really well together.”

Johnson was asked if he thinks the trio’s success has anything to do with all three being from Anchorage.

“Honestly, I kind of think it does,” he said. “Payton and Tanner Congdon grew up together. They have good chemistry and Jester’s played with all of them and they went to the same high school. I definitely feel like that’s why they are clicking is because they have that chemistry from a long time ago. But yeah, they are rolling.”

Story Courtesy of the Great Falls Tribune