By Kevin Scott
|Box Score||Game Sheet||League Scoreboard||Americans Team Statistics (Playoffs)|
GREAT FALLS, Mont., March 17, 2016 — Last week, the 2015-16 North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) season ended and now the top four teams with the best records square off to see which team is crowned the champion of the Frontier Division.
Although, the Great Falls Americans were on top of their division for most of the season, they found themselves in second place behind the Yellowstone Quake after the regular season concluded. The Bozeman Ice Dogs and the Gillette Wild came in third and fourth, respectively. These four teams are still playing in the middle of March for a chance to claim a trophy. This is the second year that these teams along with the Billings Bulls, Glacier Nationals, and Helena Bighorns have been in the NA3HL after being in the American West Hockey League (AWHL) for many years.
The Great Falls Americans (35-11-2) and the Bozeman Ice Dogs (29-11-8) are facing off against each other in the Frontier Division’s best-of-three Semifinals that began tonight in Great Falls. The winner moves on to the Frontier Division Finals next week against either the Yellowstone Quake (35-9-3) or the Gillette Wild (27-20-0), who are playing in the other semifinal matchup.
Great Falls and Bozeman have each won three head-to-head matchups apiece this season with all games ending within a point after the contest concluded. The Americans played well all season long at the Great Falls Ice Plex ending the season with an 18-5-1 record and a 16-6-1 mark on the road.
The second-seeded Great Falls Americans posted a 2-1 thrilling win over the third-ranked Bozeman Ice Dogs in Game 1 of the NA3HL Frontier Division Semi-Finals thanks to Ricards Bernhards game-winning score in the second overtime on Thursday night at the Great Falls Ice Plex.
The first and second periods saw lots of shots be taken but no goals put on the scoreboard.
During the first period, Great Falls took eleven shots while holding Bozeman to eight. Each team had just one minor penalty.
The middle period was quiet on the scoreboard as well despite Great Falls offense taking 20 shots while limiting the offensive attack by Bozeman to four. Great Falls goaltender Jake Stephan had 12 saves while Stephen Frank of Bozeman racked up 31 after forty minutes of action.
Zach Frasier gave the Ice Dogs the early lead five minutes into the third period. Steven Nisbet and Casey Gobel assisted on the first scoring drive for the visiting team. A few minutes later, Great Falls scored the game-tying goal on a power play by Brendan Jester. His goal with 11:10 on the clock was assisted by Miles Giorgione and Stevan Goran. After the teams traded goals, the game was forced to go into overtime.
After a scoreless twenty-minute overtime, Bozeman and Great Falls went into a second overtime period to decide the outcome of Game 1 of the Frontier Semi-finals. Each team took 17 shots but registered no goals.
Eighty-nine seconds into the second overtime, Great Falls tally by Ricards Bernhards with help from Jesse Johnson and Josh Larson gave the Americans the win in the first game of the series.
The Americans out-shot the Ice Dogs 63-41 including two shots in the second overtime.
There were just four minor penalties combined for both teams resulting in eight minutes of penalty time in the 81-minute playoff contest.
Jake Stephan did his part as the goaltender for the Americans. He started and finished the contest earning 40 saves and allowing one second period goal in 81:29. Stephen Frank chipped in 61 saves in the loss for the visiting Bozeman NA3HL franchise.
In the other NA3HL Semi-Finals, fourth-ranked Gillette Wild topped the top-ranked Yellowstone Quake in overtime 6-5 in Game 1 of their best-of-three NA3HL Semi-Finals on Thursday night in Wyoming to take a 1-0 lead in their series. Alex King’s feed to Cade Boreing 45 seconds into overtime was the game winning score for the Wild. Game Two is set for Friday night in Gillette, Wyoming at 7:05PM.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans will challenge the Bozeman Ice Dogs in Game Two of the NA3HL Frontier Division Semi-Finals best-of-three series at Haynes Pavilion in Bozeman, Montana on Friday, March 18, 2016 at 7:30PM. If Great Falls wins, they will advance to the Frontier Division Finals. The game could reach a decisive Game 3 if Bozeman picks up the win on Friday night. The series would shift back to Great Falls for a 4:00PM start on Sunday, March 20th.
Additional Media Coverage: March 16, 2016: Great Falls Tribune: Behind strong goaltending, Americans primed for playoff run
Additional Media Coverage: March 17, 2016: Great Falls Tribune: Johnson lifts Americans in 2OT