GF Tribune: Junior A Hockey: Americans open championship series

GF Tribune: Junior A Hockey: Americans open championship series

 

By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer (sschreck@greatfallstribune.com)

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Great Falls Americans and Helena Bighorns could do without each other’s company.

“We definitely don’t like each other,” Americans forward Cody Page said. “Not at all. Every game is physical. Every game gets chippy.”

The two will tangle in the best-of-3 Frontier Division Finals series starting Friday, when the 1-seed Americans host the 2-seed Bighorns at the IcePlex at 7 in a rematch of last year’s championship series in which Helena swept Great Falls.

Page remembers the Bighorns as nearly unbeatable.

“Last year, obviously it’s a different group,” he said. “They were dominant. I don’t think we really had a chance last year. They were just a machine. This year’s a different story. We have a couple of young guys who can really play and it should be fun.”

Said Americans head coach Jeff Heimel: “At the end of the day, we have built a pretty fierce rivalry with them. With their success that they’ve had over the years — and our up-and-coming-ness of the program and sort of what we’ve been looking to do — I think it’s only fitting that we have an opportunity to play against them in the finals. It just wouldn’t seem right (if we didn’t play them).”

The Americans, 36-10-3, swept the Billings Bulls in last week’s semifinal series while the Bighorns, 36-12-2, outlasted the Gillette Wild in Game 3, the deciding game, to advance.

Great Falls is 4-2-2 against Helena this season. The winner of the series will advance to the six-team North American 3 Hockey League Silver Cup Championship Tournament in Geneva, Ill., March 19-22. The champion and second-place finisher in that will then move on to the Tier III National Championship in Simsbury, Conn., the week after.

“They compete hard and they have good special teams,” Heimel said of the Bighorns. “I think they have shown some resiliency. We’ve had a couple games against them this year where I’ve felt like we could have went on to win, and they have just found a way to stick around.”

Great Falls forward Lucas Lomax scored six goals in two games against the Bulls, including a four-goal night in a 5-4 victory in Game 1. The lefty has 36 goals on the year.

“He has an energy about him,” Heimel said. “He’s obviously a special player and he works hard and you definitely notice him on the ice.”

Net minder Lauren Massie started Game 1 for the Americans, but was pulled for Jordan Moran in the third period when they fell behind 4-3. Moran, who stopped 28 of 30 shots in Game 2, is expected to get the start Friday.

“We played extremely well,” Heimel said of the first-round series. “And I could tell that we were doing the right things. It was good that we came out on top because we definitely deserved that win. I think the team is playing great. We are firing on all cylinders.”

Lomax, Dylan Garton, Zach Mese, Lucas Stover and Erik Gatson are all in their final year of eligibility with the Americans. That group wants nothing more than to beat Helena, Page said.

Heimel echoed those sentiments.

“The cool thing is that they are hungry, you know what I mean?” the head coach said. “They’ve all been here for a while. They’ve worked hard. Yeah, I think they want to end on a good note. They want to win. They’ve been such a huge part of the progression of this program.”

On Feb. 21, an Americans-Bighorns game ended in a brawl, according to Page.

“This is where we wanted to be all year, right here, against Helena,” Page said. “I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

“I think we know we are the better team.”

Attached Photo: Great Falls Tribune File Photo