By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
December 4, 2015
The Great Falls Americans didn’t mind rubbing it in a little bit.
Not against the Helena Bighorns.
Great Falls scored three goals in a 1:13 spurt late in the third period on Friday night, including two in an eight-second span, to notch a convincing 5-1 victory over its rival in front of 665 fans at the Great Falls IcePlex.
Great Falls improved to 17-6, while Helena fell to 12-8.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to kind of finish that way, at the end of the game,” Americans head coach Jeff Heimel said. “ … Not that any game is any more or less important as far as points are concerned, but I don’t know, this one feels pretty good.”
Great Falls net minder Jake Stephan improved to 8-2 on the season, stopping 41 of the 42 shots directed his way. Tanner Congdon scored twice, and says it’s always nice to pour it on Helena.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “We were hoping that everyone was going to bring it tonight, and everyone showed up and bought in. The pucks just went in.”
The speed of the Bighorns was on full display in the game’s opening minutes as they controlled the play, out-shooting the Americans 7-1 in the first five minutes and breaking open several odd-man opportunities.
After Miles Giorgione went to the box for roughing, Helena took advantage.
A loose puck caromed right to Wyatt Stotts beside the net, who buried home the power play goal for a 1-0 lead with 17:05 remaining in first period. Ryan Daugherty and Jay Forbes had the assists.
The Americans found their energy after that as four straight Helena penalties proved costly for the visiting Bighorns. While the Americans failed to convert on a lengthy 5-on-3, they scored soon thereafter when Josh Larson directed a shot toward the net, and Tanner Congdon grabbed the rebound and placed a perfect shot top shelf to tie the game at one.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Congdon said of beating the Bighorns. “It’s just always nice beating them. They are just up the road from us, so it’s just nice giving it to them, especially in our home barn.”
Less than a minute and a half later, a tic-tac-toe passing play gave the Americans the lead. On the power play, Wade Wylie found Larson near the dot, and he rifled an on-time cross-ice pass to Congdon.
Without hesitation, Congdon one-timed the feed into the back of the net. The Anchorage, Alaska, native registered his ninth and 10th goals of the season in the first frame. The power play tally was only the 14th of the season on more than 100 opportunities for the Americans.
“Our special teams were working, definitely,” Congdon said. “We had some … lapses, but once we got it going we could just keep it in there zone and keep going.”
Great Falls and Helena had met three times previously this season. The Americans took two of them, and all three were decided by the final score of 3-2.
Helena again outshot Great Falls 16-13 in the second period, though action became more congested. Undisciplined play reared its head once more, but it was Great Falls instead of Helena that lost its cool and its composure.
Like Helena in the first 20 minutes, Great Falls took unnecessary penalties. It didn’t amount to anything, though, as the three Helena power plays, including one 5-on-3, went stale due to timely saves, blocked shots and active sticks.
A minute into the third, a nicely lofted saucer pass by Ricards Benhards sent Josh Larson all alone against Helena goaltender Grant Martens. The breakaway chance, a wrist shot from the southpaw a few feet out, was stopped.
Stevan Goran dangled through defenders several minutes later and found himself one-on-one with Martens. Goran went backhand, forehand only to fumble the puck as he stared at a wide open net. A third breakaway by Bernhards went for naught later in the period when the puck slipped off his stick when he tried to deke the net minder.
The Americans provided some insurance late in the third period. Congdon stole the puck on the half wall and threw the puck in front of the net. With bodies huddled just outside the crease and the puck loose, Larson slipped a weak shot underneath the pads of Martens. Shortly after, Mitchell Ramstad and Brendan Jester each tallied goals, eight seconds apart, both blocker side, which sent Martens to the bench for the night.
“We definitely had a good amount of quality scoring chances that could’ve gone in prior to us breaking loose,” Heimel said. “ … With that being said, it was a close game.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans notch 5-1 win over rival Helena (December 4, 2015)