By Kevin Scott
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HELENA, Mont., March 23, 2021 — The North American 3 Hockey League does not officially conclude their 2020-21 regular season until Sunday, March 28th but the Great Falls Americans (27-11-2-0, 2nd place, 56 pts.) wrapped up their season tonight in Helena, Montana.
The Butte Cobras (8-28-3-1, 8th place, 20 pts.), the Yellowstone (WY) Quake (12-25-2-1, 7th place, 27 pts.), and Missoula Junior Bruins (21-17-2-0, 4th place, 44 pts.) each finished the regular season this past weekend as members of the Frontier Division. The Bozeman Ice Dogs (13-20-3-2, 6th place, 31 pts.) and the Gillette (WY) Wild (21-15-1-1, 3rd place, 44 pts.) will face off this weekend (March 26-27th) in Wyoming for two games while the Helena Bighorns (17-18-2-1, 5th place, 37 pts.) put an end to their season with a meeting with the top-ranked Sheridan (WY) Hawks (74 pts.), who are tops in the league with a 37-1-0-0 record for two games on Friday and Saturday.
The top four spots (Sheridan, Great Falls, Gillette, and Missoula) will begin postseason play next week (April 1-4). The best-of-three format will feature #3 Gillette Wild vs. #2 Great Falls Americans and the #4 Missoula Junior Bruins vs. #1 Sheridan (WY) Hawks in the Frontier Division Semi-Finals.
Great Falls has been on a month long (24 actual days, five games) road trip and they have last played at the Great Falls Ice Plex against the Bighorns on February 27th where they needed a shootout to take a 2-1 victory in front of the home fans. Tuesday’s season finale for the Americans took place at the Helena Ice Arena as the Americans won two of out three this season against the Bighorns and they won three out of four on home ice (5-2-0-0 overall).
Kellen Harris, Daniel Crutcher, and Alex Jackson all scored for the second-ranked Great Falls Americans as they defeated the #5 Helena Bighorns 3-2 in the regular season finale for Great Falls during Tuesday’s North American 3 Hockey League contest at the Helena Ice Arena in Helena, Montana. Great Falls goaltender Zac Hattan also picked up his first win in his first start with the Americans after playing eight games for the NA3HL’s New Ulm (MN) Steel.
Great Falls goaltender Zac Hattan got the start for Great Falls in his first appearance this season while Helena’s Anthony Adleman started for the 28th time. The Bighorns’ Nick Cofer got things started with his second goal of the season from a pass by Andrew Deskin. The 1-0 lead by the home team came 83 seconds into the game. Both defenses held up for the final 18:37. The first period saw just 16 shots-on-goal with 12 coming from Helena’s offense.
Daniel Crutcher put in the equalizer for Great Falls eight minutes into the second stanza. Crutcher’s fifth tally came with assistance from Connor Chesnee and Micah Serino. Kellen Harris broke the tie during the final 1:20 by putting his fourth goal in the back of the net with helpers Hunter Maschke and Henry Chavez. Despite trailing, Helena held a 25-14 advantage on shots before the second intermission.
In the third period, Isaac Ellingson’s was awarded his 14th goal to even the rivalry at 2-2 as Gavyn Galloway and Corbin Skinner recorded the assists. Galloway currently leads the Bighorns with 19 goals and 28 assists (47 points) this season. Both teams started to think about playing an extra frame before Great Falls’ Alex Jackson rang up his 19th goal with 31 seconds remaining in regulation to secure the 27th win of the season for the visiting squad. Kobe Pane and Jake Hayes provided the assistance. Hayes’ 25th assist helped him finish the season as the team leader in points scored (46) and assists made for coach Greg Sears’ playoff bound team.
Great Falls and Helena committed a total of six infractions that resulted in 12 minutes spent in the penalty box. Five power play opportunities went unanswered on the night.
Zac Hattan, from Kalamazoo, Michigan picked up his first win in a Great Falls uniform in the meaningless final game of the regular season for the playoff bound Americans. He allowed one goal in the first and third periods while accumulating 32 saves. Helena’s Anthony Adleman ended his evening with 23 saves for his second consecutive setback.
Great Falls finished February and March strong with a 9-0-1-0 record. The Americans continued their winning ways away from home by compiling a 15-4-0-0 record while achieving a 12-7-2 mark at the Great Falls Ice Plex as they won 70% of their contests (27-11-2-0). The Americans look for more wins next week during the NA3HL Playoffs.
NOTE: Great Falls Americans forward Thomas Gazich was called up this week to Minot, North Dakota to play for the Minot Minotauros of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The Americans wish him the best of luck. The Minnetonka, Minnesota native scored one goal and dished out one assist in six games for Great Falls after coming over on February 22 from the NA3HL’s West Division’s Willmar (MN) WarHawks.
NEXT CONTEST: Great Falls will be the #2 seed in the playoffs beginning in April. Although their opponent hasn’t been determined yet (likely the #3 Gillette Wild), they will play game one of the best-of-three Frontier Divisional Semi-Finals on the road but will host Game 2 in Great Falls on Friday, April 2nd and an if necessary, Game 3 will also take place at the Great Falls Ice Plex on Saturday, April 3rd. Times and opponent will be announced in the next week. Stay tuned to the Great Falls Americans website for more details as they become available. HockeyTV provides the postseason coverage with a paid subscription.
Additonal Media Coverage: March 23, 2021: 406 MT Sports: Great Falls Americans score late goal to beat Helena Bighorns