Photo: Courtesy of Laura Richesin
By Kevin Scott
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HELENA, Mont., November 8, 2019 — Since their three-game playoff loss to the Helena Bighorns in the 2019 Frontier Divisional Finals in March, the Great Falls Americans were hoping to get revenge on their interstate rivals for the 2019-20 season.
Great Falls (13-2-1-0) took care of business for their first two wins against Helena (4-13-0-0) earlier this season as they outscored them 9-4. Their last meeting a month ago (October 12th), the Americans and Bighorns needed an overtime to settle their third matchup but the visiting team from the Capital City came out on top, 4-3 with their game-clinching goal coming two minutes into the extra frame.
Since then, Greg Sears’ squad has won six straight games including a pair of games each against the Yellowstone Quake and Gillette (WY) Wild and one game each to the Missoula Jr. Bruins and the Butte Cobras. Helena’s offense since their last victory over Great Falls has seen their young squad struggle on the ice. The Bighorns, under the direction of head coach Bob Richards, has played four of their previous six games away from the Helena Ice Arena
Great Falls looked to continue their winning streak on Friday evening in Helena.
Dylan Olson scored two goals and Bryson Fletcher and Jake Hayes each tallied a goal to lead the Great Falls Americans to their fourth shutout victory of the season on the road against the Helena Bighorns, who lost for the seventh straight time, on Friday night at the Helena Ice Arena. The four scoring chances came after the first intermission.
A scoreless first period came to an end with Great Falls registering 18 of the 21 total shots against the Bighorns defense. Each team failed to turn their two power play opportunities into goals.
Thirty-two minutes into the contest, the Great Falls Americans found the back of the net for the 1-0 advantage over their Montana rivals. Jack Olson, Great Falls’ team leader in assists (21) and points (24) along with teammate Kellen Harris pushed the puck to forward Jake Hayes for the first goal of the game over Helena’s Rylan Labrie. Despite trailing on the scoreboard, the host team, the Bighorns held a 20-15 shots-on-goal advantage in the middle period.
After the second intermission, Bryson Fletcher and Dylan Olson added one goal apiece within the first six minutes of the third frame. Logan Rachow and Harley Nyhuis assisted on Fletcher’s score 2:19 in the period while Jake Hayes and Blake Nerney earned the assists for Olson’s scoring drive. Great Falls’ third score came via a power play with 13:36 remaining. Dylan Olson added the final touches with his second goal of the period on the Americans power play with 16 seconds left thanks to assistance from forwards Levi Mese and Blake Nerney, who gathered his second assist and seventh overall to propel the visiting team to their seventh consecutive victory. Great Falls accumulated 23 of their 56 shots while holding Helena to six in the final twenty minutes of action.
The Americans, sitting in second place in the Frontier Division, attempted nearly twice as many shots (56-29) as the Bighorns in the sixty-minute contest.
The sixteenth game of the season for Great Falls saw them convert two of their five power play chances into successful scores on Dylan Olson’s two goals. Helena came up scoreless in their four-power play occurrences. The two-hour-and-16-minute contest included 15 infractions accounting for 30 minutes in the sin bin.
Viktor Wennberg continued to show why he is one of the top goaltenders in the North American 3 Hockey League as he redirected all 29 shots for his tenth win in eleven games. Helena netminder Rylan Labrie suffered his eight loss of the season but not before amassing 56 saves.
NOTE: The Great Falls Americans earlier this week traded forward Justin Ohnstad to the NA3HL’s Willmar WarHawks (Willmar, Minnesota), which is 122 miles from his hometown in New Brighton, Minnesota. The WarHawks play in the West Division. He appeared in 12 of Great Falls’ 15 games this season scoring four goals and dishing out five assists. Ohnstad also was a member of the Americans 2018-19 squad scoring 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 29 contests. Before coming to the Americans, he participated in five games with the North Iowa Bulls last season.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans and Helena Bighorns will meet for the fifth time this season again in Helena, Montana on Saturday, November 9th. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:05PM from the Helena Ice Arena and fans who can’t attend, can watch the contest on HockeyTV.