By Scott Mansch, Tribune Sports Writer

March 20, 2014

Though it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that the season ends in Helena tonight for the Great Falls Americans, don’t suggest that the hockey team will go out a loser.

“This season has been a tremendous success,” said Americans’ owner Jim Keough, whose club is down 2-0 in a best-of-five series against the powerful Helena Bighorns in a battle for the championship of the American West Hockey League.

Game 3 is in Helena tonight at 7:30, where the Bighorns prevailed 6-1 in the series opener. The Bighorns blanked the Americans 2-0 Wednesday night in Great Falls and are unbeaten in five AWHL playoff games this season. It’s not really that surprising, given that the Bighorns lost just once in 48 regular-season games this season.

“Helena is very, very good,” said Keough. “Our guys are playing well. We could have won (on Wednesday), but we’re up against a real strong team.”

The Americans were just 1-47 two years ago as a new AWHL franchise. That year, Keough made several coaching changes in an effort to turn things around. He hired Jeff Heimel prior to last season, and the Americans responded with a 16-32 record.

This year, the Great Falls team was 36-9-3 in the regular season and defeated Gillette (Wyo.) 3-1 in a first-round playoff series. No matter what happens tonight, Keough, the season has been gratifying.

“Oh my gosh, compared to where we were two years it’s just been unbelievable,” he said. “Jeff has done a fantastic job. It’s almost been a perfect year. And he’s just signed a two-year renewal of his contract.”

If the Americans pull off an upset tonight, Game 4 will be Saturday night at 7 at the Great Falls IcePlex. The club has drawn well this season, averaging about 700 fans.

“I’ve really got to thank all the people and businesses that have stuck with us,” Keough said. “We’re a local team and our sponsors have just been great.”

Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: AWHL Playoffs: Americans hope to extend season tonight (March 20, 2014)