Photo: Courtesy of Laura Richesin
By Kevin Scott
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BOZEMAN, Mont., January 18, 2020 — The #3 Great Falls Americans (26-5-4-0) and the second-place team in the Frontier Division, the Bozeman Ice Dogs (29-6-0-1) battled on the ice for just the second time on Saturday evening in Bozeman, Montana.
Great Falls was held scoreless for the first time all season during last Friday’s (January 10th) first meeting when Bozeman scored three goals in the shutout win for one of the most consistent winning clubs of the NA3HL season. Luke Hartge scored two goals and Will Kutch dished out two assists as the Ice Dogs did all their damage on the scoreboard after the first intermission. Netminder Conan Hayton ran his record to 10-3-0. Viktor Wennberg had 33 saves for Great Falls as his record dropped to 17-3-0-1.
The Great Falls home fans will see these two teams in person on Saturday, January 25th for the second-to-last home game of the 2019-20 North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) season for the Americans. The Americans will also play Bozeman in their home season finale on Saturday, February 22nd.
There are six weeks of regular season games remaining for both teams before the 2020 NA3HL Playoffs unfold during the first week of March. Three of the four slots for the Frontier Division Semi-Final playoffs have already been decided with the top-ranked Sheridan Hawks, the newest member of the Frontier Division playing in their first season leading the pack, followed by Bozeman (Ice Dogs), and the Great Falls Americans. Time will tell who the fourth club will be in the coming weeks.
For now, Great Falls would like to pick up a few more victories to build momentum in the upcoming postseason.
The Bozeman Ice Dogs pulled away from the visiting Great Falls Americans 5-2 during Saturday night’s NA3HL hockey action from Haynes Pavilion in Bozeman, Montana. Great Falls led 2-1 after the first period but the Ice Dogs outscored the Americans 4-0 in the second and third periods to gather their 29th win of the season. Will Kutch scored two goals and had two assists while goaltender Conan Hayton stopped 32 of 34 shots for his 11th win in the net. Meanwhile, Great Falls received goals from Dylan Olson and Brody Boyce for their fifth regulation loss and ninth overall.
The Americans drew first blood as a pass from Blake Nerney to Dylan Olson 6:41 into the first period put the Americans on top 1-0. Levi Mese added the secondary assist. Olson’s goal sailed by Bozeman netminder Conan Hayton for the Minnesota native’s 14th successful scoring drive of the season. The lead would last just 89 seconds as one of Great Falls’ two first period penalties resulted in a goal for the Ice Dogs. Isaac Smolden tied the contest (1-1) while the Americans were down a man. The tally was assisted by Luke McKay and Christian Veneruzzo with 11:50 on the clock. Before the period concluded, Great Falls took their second lead of the contest as Brody Boyce recorded his 16th goal thanks to assistance from Henry Chavez and Kellen Harris with six minutes remaining. Seven shots along with two goals were awarded to the Americans while the Ice Dogs attempted 15 shots with one successful goal.
The second stanza started with a second goal by Bozeman two minutes into the stanza to even the game (2-2). Will Kutch of Minot, North Dakota, collected his 19th goal with assists going to defenseman Max Schumacher and forward Hayden Groth. Schumacher, from Belgrade, Montana, just a few miles from Bozeman, received his 18th assist and Groth assisted for the ninth time this season. Great Falls saw Bozeman take their first lead of the night nine minutes later. Tadeas Aulehla, a forward from Czech Republic, scored for the Ice Dogs to break the tie off the stick of Luke Hartge, who is the points leader for Bozeman (73) and he is second on the team with 39 assists. Will Kutch was also credited with an assist for coach Elliot Bates’ team. Blake Nerney (Americans) and Dennis Tamburo, Jr. (Ice Dogs) were both ejected for fighting late in the period. The host team out-shot the visiting squad, 16-9.
The Ice Dogs added two more goals to ensure the victory for the home team in the third frame. Duncan McGarrah, one of four players on the roster from the Bozeman area, secured his 18th goal with one assist each from Will Kutch and Hazen McKay with 4:28 left in the junior hockey contest. Bozeman lit up the lamp for the final time with under a minute left as Luke Hartge’s pass to Will Kutch created the empty net score. Zach Monaco also assisted on the final score for Bozeman.
The Americans and Ice Dogs combined for 71 shots and seven goals. Great Falls took 16 of those (34) shots in the middle period while Bozeman obtained 28 (of the 37) in the first and third stanzas.
The Americans has six penalties called on them resulting in 33 minutes of time spent in the sin bin. The Ice Dogs had three of their four penalties in the second period that resulted in 29 minutes in the penalty box. Two of the top three teams in the Frontier Division missed five of their six opportunities on the power play. Only Bozeman’s game-tying first period score by Isaac Smolden came while the Americans were being penalized.
Bozeman netminder Conan Hayton and Great Falls’ Viktor Wennberg each finished the night with 32 saves.
NEXT CONTEST: The Helena Bighorns and Bozeman Ice Dogs will be the two opponents for the Great Falls Americans next weekend. Interstate rivals, Great Falls and Helena will meet for the eighth time this season on Friday, January 24th in the Capital City of Helena for a 7:05PM showdown at the Helena Ice Arena. The Americans will then return to the Great Falls Ice Plex for the second time of 2020 when the Bozeman Ice Dogs come to town for the first time this season. As usual, fans can watch the game through the NA3HL’s subscription-based webcast on HockeyTV and/or follow the stats live for the 7:30PM contest on the NA3HL scoreboard.