Photo: Courtesy of Larry Beckner, Tribune Photographer
By Mark D. Robertson, Tribune Sports Writer
November 8, 2014
The Great Falls Americans’ undefeated season came to an end with the Billings Bulls’ 1-0 victory Friday night at the Great Falls IcePlex.
Billings’ Nick Rizzo scored with 21 seconds left on assists from Ralfs Kerelis and Josh Pena to end the Americans’ season-opening win streak at 12 in front of a crowd of 690.
The action was fairly even in the first period as Billings outshot the Americans 12-11.
Neither team could capitalize on a power play each, and that was a theme of the night. Both teams were 0-for-3 on power play opportunities.
The Americans had the best chance to score midway through the period when Zack Mese’s deflection glanced off the pipe.
Erik Gatson corralled the carom and zoomed a shot at the Billings goal that also nipped the post, but neither got past Bulls goalie Cole Semchak.
The two teams played scoreless hockey in the second frame as well, this time with Great Falls taking the 9-6 shot advantage and again controlling the puck for the majority of the quarter.
Americans head coach Jeff Heimel said he didn’t see the tenacity that he’s used to seeing on offense tonight.
“We’re a team that’s really been fast and aggressive and put a lot of pressure on teams to be successful, and I don’t think we did that tonight,” Heimel said. “…They’re just little things I think have been part of our identity, part of our success, and I don’t think we did that tonight.”
The defense was much better, though, led by a 29-save effort from goaltender Lauren Massie.
Massie amassed 18 saves through the first two periods and had a stellar performance in the third, tallying four saves and holding the Bulls scoreless in a minute-long barrage from the Bulls between the seven and six-minute marks.
Heimel was thrilled with his goaltender’s night.
“At the end of the day, when you only give up one goal in a hockey game … that’s a good performance,” the third-year coach said.
Great Falls’ chances came earlier in the third as they pushed the pace but weren’t able to punch shots in through Semchak and the Billings defense.
The Americans made their best chance of the third when Craig Hayes found the puck directly in front of Semchak and the Bulls goal, but Billings defenders forced him into the crease where he and Semchak got tied up and the Billings goaltender was able to corral the puck.
Great Falls didn’t manage another shot on goal.
Then the brakes came on again, and the Bulls took advantage.
“It’s not like we’re trying to survive to get to overtime,” Heimel said. “That’s not the team that we’ve put together. I think they got it deep … they got a scoring opportunity and they capitalized.”
Great Falls won the shots-on-goal battle by a count of 32-30.
The Americans host Helena tonight at 7:30 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s Frontier League championship series. Great Falls leads the season series against the Bighorns 1-0.
“It’s a game that’s easy to get up for,” Heimel said. “I think we’ll definitely use our legs a little bit more tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll have a good outcome.”
The coach said Evan Hauser will get the nod in goal after he got the night off Friday.
Billings …0 0 1 – 1
Great Falls …0 0 0 – 0
Period 1 – No scoring.
Period 2 – No scoring.
Period 3 – Nick Rizzo (Ralfs Kerelis, Josh Pena), 19:33.
Power Play opportunities – B 0-3; GF 0-3.
Shots on goal by period – B 12 6 12 – 30; GF 11 9 12 – 32.
Goalies – B Cole Semchak 32 shots/32 saves; GF Lauren Massie 30 shots/29 saves.
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune (November 8, 2014)