By Kevin Scott
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GREAT FALLS, Mont., January 20, 2017 — The Great Falls Americans (26-3-2-3) are enjoying the month of January at this point.
Great Falls, second in the Frontier Division in the NA3HL junior hockey standings, has reeled off five straight victories including two shootout wins last week against the Yellowstone Quake in Cody, Wyoming.
The Americans were looking for their sixth win of the month as they challenged the Gillette Wild on Friday evening in the first game of a two-game home series against the Wyoming club this weekend. Gillette, the third-place squad in the division with a record of 24-8-1-0, has won three of their last four games in 2017. They split their series at home with the Bozeman Ice Dogs followed by two wins last week against the Helena Bighorns to start off the new year.
In their previous four meetings, Great Falls and Gillette have each won two contests in their head-to-head matchups. The last two games back in early November in Great Falls had the Americans winning 2-1 in overtime in the first game and they suffered a 4-3 setback in a shootout the following night.
These two teams won’t meet again in the regular season but could have a chance in the playoffs if both teams reach that point in March.
Tegan Harrington and Ricards Bernhards each registered a goal in the first two periods as the #2 Great Falls escaped with a 2-1 victory over the third-ranked Gillette Wild on Friday night in front of large crowd of 925 fans in attendance at the Great Falls ice Plex.
During the first 19:24 of the opening period, both defenses held up and no penalties were created. Tegan Harrington’s goal with 36 seconds remaining before the first intermission gave the home team the early lead. Brendan Jester and Kody Thomas came away with the only assists during the first twenty minutes of action.
Ricards Bernhards, a forward from last year’s team who rejoined the Americans tonight after a stint in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), scored Great Falls’ second goal of the night. Tanner Congdon accumulated his 25th assist at the 14:36 mark of the middle period while Payton McSharry added his 22nd. Gillette put up their first points of the contest and cut into their deficit (2-1) when Nick Stockert and Brooks Mitzel found Blake Kauth on the power play for his eighth goal of the season with 4:27 left in the second stanza. The Americans took 26 shots-on-goal and limited the visiting Wild to five after the first two periods of play.
Both squads battled on the ice hard but no points were scored during the third period. Great Falls and Gillette combined for 15 shots-on-goal.
Blake Kauth, a defenseman from Rapid City, South Dakota, was the only player on either side to capitalize on a successful power play opportunity in the middle period. The home team finished with two minor penalties accounting for four minutes in the penalty box while Gillette had one minor penalty towards the end of regulation.
Kyler Ayers notched his ninth win of the season for the Americans by deflecting 11 of the 12 shots that Gillette’s offense sent his way. Landon Anderson, a Utah native, let his record slip to 9-4 with his 32 saves in the loss for the Wild.
NOTE: Ricards Bernhards, a 6’4” forward from Riga, Latvia, made his debut with the Great Falls Americans tonight. The returner from last year’s Frontier Division championship team began this season with the Springfield Jr. Blues, a North American Hockey League (NAHL) team from Springfield, Illinois. He scored five goals and dished out eight assists (13 pts.) in 28 contests for the Blues. He most recently competed at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championships (under 20) held in Canada in late December. Bernhards represented his home country of Latvia and appeared in all six games.
NEXT CONTEST: The Americans will face the Wild for the final time this season on Saturday, January 21st. The home contest for Great Falls starts at 7:30PM.