Story courtesy of NA3HL.com (Story: 48 in 24 Series: Great Falls Americans)
The 47 in 24 series will feature an in-depth look into all 47 teams in the NA3HL for the 2017-18 season, with new teams being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 47 in 24 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 47 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2017-18 season, including taking a look at their potential roster and their strengths as a team for the upcoming season. It will also take a look back on the 2016-17 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 47 in 24 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Great Falls Americans
2016-17 Record: 38-4-5, 81 pts.
2017 Playoffs: Lost Division Finals to Yellowstone Quake, 2 games to 1
Head Coach: Jeff Heimel
2017-18 Division: Frontier
The Great Falls Americans began as a Junior A hockey team in 1994 in the America West Hockey League (AWHL). After the NAHL/AWHL merger they folded only to then remerge as an expansion team for the Northern Pacific Hockey League in 2011, but instead joined the other NorPac teams in forming the new America West Hockey League. In 2014, the AWHL joined the NA3HL as the Frontier Division.
Since joining the NA3HL, the Great Falls Americans have remained one of the top teams in the Frontier Division – making the Silver Cup Round Robin in two out of the last three years. This year, the team finished with their best record (38-4-5), but lost in the Frontier Division Finals against the Yellowstone Quake.
With Coach Jeff Heimel behind the bench for the sixth season, he reflects on last season as a “fun run,” and with only four regular season losses, the Americans are a force to be reckoned with. The team has consistently made it to the Silver Cup Round Robin, and missing it in the 2016-17 season only makes them crave it this year even more.
“I was pleased with the amount of college commitments we had last year, and I feel pleased with the regular season,” Heimel said.
In the 2016-17 season, the Great Falls Americans had five players advance to college hockey. Kyler Ayers (Boise State), Tanner Congdon (Bryn Athyn), Tegan Harrington (Northern Arizona), Nick Nast (St. Mary’s), and Danny O’Donnell (Aurora), all benefited from the opportunities provided by the NA3HL.
The Great Falls Americans’ eight returning players are prepared to set the pace for the season, and are hungry for a Silver Cup Championship. Coach Heimel says it’s “nice to get a group that knows what’s going on,” and looks forward to seeing how they will work together this season. With such a young team, Heimel and the Americans plan to really capitalize on the NA3HL’s ability and focus on building players and advancing them to the next level.
“Our goal this season – and every season – is to win a championship and advance players.”
With so many new players, Heimel emphasizes the importance on coming into the season with an open mind.
“It takes a while to integrate yourself with a system. [We want] people that are willing to listen and learn.” Heimel and his coaching staff want players that are willing and prepared to better themselves, and carry on traditions that have been set by past players. Ideally, new members of the Great Falls Americans will thrive and grow as players and as individuals on and off the ice.
In conjunction with the NA3HL’s ideal of advancement and development, Coach Heimel thinks very highly of the various league wide events that are offered.
“[They are] really instrumental in helping advance players. There’s only so much we can do to sell players on the phone – to be able to get guys out to central locations – they’re great. It’s good for players to be able to get there and get exposure.”
When it comes to community service, the Americans look forward to making themselves known in a relatively small town. The team plans various events throughout the season to help out, including trips to elementary schools to read and talk to kids about hockey.
This involvement in the community reflects in the community’s support for the team. Heimel attributes this to their “good, family oriented” attitude.
“The team is part of the community, and it starts with off ice stuff.”