By Kevin Scott
|Box Score||Game Sheet||League Scoreboard||Americans Team Statistics (Playoffs)|
CODY, Wyo., March 23, 2017 — Just like the standings have indicated all season long, the two best teams (record-wise) in the Frontier Division of the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) met on the ice on Thursday evening for Game 1 of the best-of-three Frontier Divisional Finals with the team coming away with two victories advances to the 2017 NA3HL Silver Cup Championship next week.
The second-ranked Great Falls Americans, with a record of 41-4-2-3 including two straight wins last week against the Gillette Wild in the divisional semifinals after receiving a first round bye, and the top-ranked Cody, Wyoming based Yellowstone Quake (42-5-0-3) have met six times this season (3-2-1-0 for Great Falls) with four of them being played in Wyoming. Great Falls has had success on the road by winning three of the four meetings away from the Great Falls Ice Plex against the Quake. The two wins in January were not easy as the Americans needed a shootout in each game. The Quake easily defeated the Bozeman Ice Dogs last week in the semifinals in two games after also having a bye during the first week of the playoffs.
Forward Tanner Congdon, defenseman Danny O’Donnell and goaltender Nick Nast have been proven leaders for Great Falls. Congdon scored 41 goals and dished out 41 assists during the regular season and added six goals and two assists in two games last week against Gillette. O’Donnell, the team leader in assists with 46 and Nick Nast, both from California, have had high statistical seasons for the Americans. Nast (20-3-0-1-1) allowed only 52 goals in 25 games during the regular season. He participated in both semifinal games and combined for 54 saves.
Reed Kelly and Max Doner continued throughout the season to lead Yellowstone junior hockey franchise. Kelly scored 82 points (33 goals, 49 assists) along with Doner’s 20 goals and 37 assists. Nick Ottenbacher, a Michigan native, came away with a 26-2-0-3 record as Yellowstone’s netminder accumulating 985 saves in 33 appearances.
Both squads renew their rivalry for a spot in the eight-team Silver Cup Championship Tournament (March 29- April 2, 2017) In Romeoville, Illinois.
Payton McSharry and Brendan Jester each scored one goal apiece and goaltender Nick Nast recorded 37 saves as the Great Falls Americans edged the Yellowstone Quake 2-1 during Game 1 of the Frontier Finals in Cody, Wyoming on Thursday evening.
Two minutes into the opening period, Great Falls forward Payton McSharry obtained his third goal of the playoffs (31st overall) thanks to assistance by Dustin Truex and Brendan Jester. Both teams defense did not allow another goal for the final 17:38. The penalty-free period, witnessed by the 400 fans inside Riley Arena, saw Great Falls out-shoot Gillette 14-9 in the stanza.
Madrid, Spain native Pablo Pantoja tied the contest at 1-1 a few minutes into the middle period to get the Quake on the scoreboard. Forwards Cole Stewart and Max Meyer tacked on the assists for coach Ryan Theros’ Wyoming squad. The Americans, under the direction of coach Jeff Heimel, broke the tie with 12:03 remaining before the second intermission. Brendan Jester found a way to get the puck in the net with assists coming from Sandis Mezharaups and Ricards Bernhards. Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Yellowstone took 18 shots in the period and had a 27-20 shots-on-goal advantage after the first forty minutes.
The offensive attacks by Great Falls and Yellowstone were denied any points due to tough defensive strategies by the NA3HL teams in the third period. Both teams skated but could not convert any goals.
Yellowstone only scored one goal on 38 shot attempts and went 0-for-1 on the power play. The Americans missed out on two power play opportunities while taking 26 shots. A combined 44 minutes were spent in the penalty box with ten infractions.
Nick Nast continued to show why he is one of the top ten goaltenders in the league. Nast prevented 37 of the 38 shots from getting into the net. The Quake netminder Nick Ottenbacher finished with 24 saves.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans will be on home ice (Great Falls Ice Plex) for Game 2 of the best-of-three Frontier Divisional Finals on Friday, March 24th against the Yellowstone Quake starting at 7:30PM (MST). If a third game is needed, the Americans would return to Riley Arena in Cody, Wyoming for the winner-take-all championship contest at 7:00PM on Saturday, March 25th.
Additional Media Coverage: March 21, 2017: MTN Sports (KRTV): Great Falls Americans hockey team ready for rematch with Yellowstone Quake in Frontier Divisional Finals
Additional Media Coverage: March 22, 2017: Great Falls Tribune: Americans to face Yellowstone in Frontier finals
Additional Media Coverage: March 24, 2017: Great Falls Tribune: Americans take opener; can win title Friday at home