By Kevin Scott
|Box Score||Game Sheet||League Scoreboard||Americans Team Statistics (Playoffs)|
GILLETTE, Wyo., March 15, 2017 — Two weeks ago, the 2016-17 North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) season concluded with six out of the eight Frontier Division teams who had the best records qualifying for postseason play.
The top two teams (#1 Yellowstone (WY) Quake and the #2 Great Falls Americans) each received a bye in the best-of-three Play-In Series. The #3 Gillette Wild won two out of three games in the Play-In Series against the #6 Helena Bighorns for the right to play the #2 Great Falls Americans in one of the two Frontier Divisional Semi-Finals. In the other series, the #5 Bozeman Ice Dogs needed just two contests to defeat the #4 Missoula Jr. Bruins (who finished up their inaugural season as a member of the NA3HL) with Game 2 going into overtime. Bozeman meets the top-seeded Yellowstone Quake in the other Frontier Division Semi-Final matchup. The #7 Billings Bulls and the last-place Glacier Nationals failed to make a playoff spot this season.
Similar to last season, the Yellowstone Quake and Great Falls Americans finished in the top two spots in the Frontier Division. The two winners in the semi-finals will move on to next week’s Frontier Division Finals with the winner gaining a spot in the eight-team NA3HL Silver Cup Championship Tournament in Romeoville, Illinois (March 29 – April 2).
The Great Falls Americans (39-4-2-3) and the Gillette Wild (37-13-1-0, includes two wins and a loss against Helena in playoffs last week and one loss tonight vs. Great Falls) have been evenly matched throughout the season with neither team winning by more than two goals. In their six meetings, the Americans have been on the winning side four times including a 2-1 overtime win on November 4th in Great Falls.
The Americans played well at home and on the road throughout the 47-game regular season. Great Falls won 19 games at the Great Falls Ice Plex (19-2-2-1 record at home) and 19 on the road (19-2-0-2).
Forward Tanner Congdon garnered a hat trick (3 goals) and dished out two assists while Payton McSharry provided an additional two goals and one assist to lead the #2 Great Falls Americans to a 6-2 victory over the #3 Gillette Wild during Wednesday night’s Game 1 Frontier Divisional Semi-Finals contest in Gillette, Wyoming. Goaltender Nick Nast recorded 24 saves in 60 minutes.
Tanner Congdon, one of ten Alaskans on the Great Falls roster, scored two first period goals in a nine-minute span to carry the visiting team to a 2-0 lead after the first twenty minutes. Payton McSharry and Normunds Vibans tallied the assists on the first goal with 12:45 remaining in the first stanza. Tegan Harrington and Malachi Bushey set up Congdon second scoring play.
Five minutes into the second period, Payton McSharry scored the first of his two goals with help from teammates Tanner Congdon and Brendan Jester to increase the Americans scoring advantage to 3-0. The Wild cut into their deficit as North Dakota native Nick Stockert picked up his fourth assist (he had three in their Play-In Series last week against Helena) of the playoffs with a pass to Kyle Truax, who found a way to get the puck by Americans goaltender Nick Nast for their first points of the night. Great Falls took ten shots in each of the first two periods but Gillette finished one ahead with 21.
During the final period, Great Falls netted two more goals in the first few minutes with a Michael Fary score and Tanner Congdon adding his third goal for a hat trick. Adam Vandenbos assisted on Fary’s scoring drive and Brendan Jester registered his second assist in as many periods. The Americans held a four-goal lead (5-1) before Gillette’s Nick Stockert scored off a pass from Kyle Truax at the 13:52 mark. The home team would get no closer on the scoreboard as Payton McSharry accumulated his second goal 72 seconds later thanks to Tanner Congdon and Brendan Jester for creating the successful scoring opportunity for coach Jeff Heimel’s squad. Neither team could put any more points on the board during the final twelve minutes of the contest.
Both squads took 26 shots with Great Falls attempting 20 before the second intermission.
The two-hour-and-10-minute contest saw a combined four minor penalties with three infractions coming in the last stanza.
A trio of players led the scoring for Great Falls including Tanner Congdon (3 goals, 2 assists), Payton McSharry (2 goals, l assist) and Michael Fary’s goal in the third. Brendan Jester finished with three assists. Meanwhile, Gillette was directed by Kyle Truax and Nick Stockert, who each finished with a goal and an assist in the loss.
Nick Nast did his part as the goaltender for the Americans. The California native had 15 of his 24 saves coming in the second and third periods. Lincon Riley earned the start and the loss for the Wild. He stopped ten shots in 25 minutes before giving way to Landon Anderson, who went 10-for-13.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans will head back home to the Great Falls Ice Plex on Friday evening (March 17th) for Game 2 of the three-game Frontier Divisional Semi-Finals against the Gillette Wild starting at 7:30PM (MST).
If Great Falls wins, they will advance to the Frontier Division Finals next week. The game could reach a decisive Game 3 if Gillette bounces back to win on Friday night. The series would remain in Great Falls for a Saturday afternoon contest starting at 12:00PM (Noon).
Additional Media Coverage: March 14, 2017: Great Falls Tribune: Americans to face Wild in Frontier playoffs
Additional Media Coverage: March 16, 2017: Great Falls Tribune: Congdon scores hat trick as Great Falls defeats Gillette