By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
January 23, 2014
Glacier Nationals’ Peirre Gustafsson proved why a goaltender could be the most important position – or the greatest equalizer – to a team’s success in all of sports on Thursday night.
Behind 58 shots, the Americans beat the Glacier Nationals 3-1 and moved to 27-6-2 on the season. Cody Page scored his 17th and 18th of the season, while Connor Barta scored the game-winning goal. Evan Hauser stopped 18 shots for the Americans.
“I don’t think the score really reflected how well we played tonight,” said Americans head coach Jeff Heimel. “They had a great goalie. He stopped a lot of pucks. I think we did a lot of things right … For the most part, we played a good hockey game. We were competitive, and the game got better as it went on, and I’m definitely happy about that.”
Gustafsson, who entered the game with a 3.47 goals-against average, kept the Nationals in the contest, making several point-blank saves during the second period when the Americans led 1-0. Great Falls mounted extreme pressure in the Nationals’ zone in the final minute of the second period, but Gustafsson stood tall. Jeff Heimel’s team – behind three second period penalties by Glacier and none for the Americans — outshot the Nationals 24-4 in the middle frame.
“(Gustafsson) is good,” said Heimel. “He sees everything. Even shots from the point, he’s looking around and he’s just able to trap the puck very, very well … Very, very good goaltender – one of the best in the league and he showed it tonight.
“It kept them in the game. It allowed them to be competitive right down to the very end.”
After a goal by Glacier’s Tanner Dodd halfway through the third period, the game was tied. Then, with 2:48 left, Great Falls native Connor Barta scored the game-winning goal on a 2-on-1 courtesy of a perfect pass by Austin Krantz. Page added an empty-netter as time expired for the 3-1 win. But Barta’s game-winning goal was the difference.
“That’s why (Connor Barta) is a captain,” said Heimel. “He’s a two-year veteran. When guys have been here a couple years and have that experience, when the game is on the line, I feel like it’s great to see those guys really stepping up and contribute. That’s what you want from your veterans.”
The Americans return to action on Friday night against the league-leading Helena Bighorns, which will arrive in Greats Falls with 65 points and a record of 32-1-1. Great Falls’ record versus the Bighorns this season is 1-4-1. The puck drops at 7:30.
“They are a very, very good team,” said Heimel. “We’ve played them close all year … I think for us it’s about just playing a complete game … We want to set the tone and say, ‘Hey, we can play with these guys.’ I think we are very, very capable and we have proven it, but it’s just getting over that hump.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans edge Glacier (January 23, 2014)