By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
April 2, 2016
ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – The Great Falls Americans weren’t satisfied with just a semifinal appearance. They wanted more, a banner and a championship, and Great Falls head coach Jeff Heimel said as much after Friday night’s 8-1 decision against the Yellowstone Quake.
That will have to wait another year.
Despite a 2-0 lead early in the second period, the Americans came up just short Saturday, falling to the Metro (Mich.) Jets 5-4 in a semifinal contest of the North American 3 Hockey League’s Silver Cup in Romeoville, Ill.
“There were times with this group when we were struggling early on to build chemistry together,” Heimel said of the season as a whole. “I just can’t believe the way that they came together at the end. Obviously, they wanted to win a league championship, but there’s improvement on last year as well. To get to the final four and have an opportunity to be one game away from playing for the title, that’s a huge step for our program. We’re excited, and we expect to be back there, plus one step further, next year.”
The Jets will play North Iowa for the title Sunday at noon Mountain Time.
Great Falls, which won its second straight Frontier Division playoff title last Friday, concludes the 2015-16 campaign 40-13-2. The Americans went 2-2 this week after going 0-3 in this same event a year ago.
Unlike a majority of the Americans’ games this season, they were outnumbered in the shot column Saturday.
Metro, which improved its record to 4-0 in the tournament, tested Great Falls net minder Jake Stephan 35 times; Great Falls accumulated 27 shots on Metro goaltender Kameron Limburg.
Both teams skated to a scoreless tie through the first period, and Great Falls came out quickly in the second stanza.
First-line forward Tanner Congdon and southpaw defenseman Miles Giorgione each lit the lamp before even five minutes ticked off the clock, and with 15:50 remaining in the second period, Great Falls held a 2-0 advantage.
Josh Larson and Kyle Johnson assisted on Congdon’s goal, while Brendan Jester and Stevan Goran fed Giorgione for his power play marker.
The Jets responded with three goals in the next seven minutes.
A shorthanded conversion started things midway through the period, and the floodgates opened as the Jets found the back of the net twice in a 33-second span soon after that.
“It was just an intense game,” Heimel said. “Metro’s very, very good. They had their backs against the wall, and they came firing right back. We just hung in there. We scored, and then they scored. It was such a good hockey game, back and forth. They are a good hockey team. There’s a reason they’ve only lost five, six games this year. To be there, right down to the wire, that was exciting.”
Outshot 16-10 in the second frame, Great Falls found itself down 3-2 heading into the third.
Tegan Harrington, on an assist from Goran, tied the game at 3-all with 15:02 remaining. But the Jets followed with the next two, including an empty-netter with a minute left as Heimel sent Stephan to the bench for the extra attacker and a 6 on 5 advantage.
Tyler Garcia’s shot with 29 seconds left and Stephan pulled at the other end cut the deficit to 5-4, but the Americans couldn’t tie it in the closing seconds.
It’s the end of the road for seven Great Falls skaters, who are out now out of eligibility as far as junior hockey goes. That list includes Connor Barta, Reed Link, Austin Krantz, Josh Larson, Jake Stephan, Stevan Goran and Tyler Garcia.
“They helped make this program what it is,” Heimel said. “They’re going to be missed.”
Metro Jets 5, Great Falls Americans 4
Metro 0 3 2 – 5
Great Falls 0 2 2 – 4
Second period – 1. Great Falls, Tanner Congdon (Josh Larson, Kyle Johnson) 3:07. 2. Great Falls, Miles Giorgione (Brendan Jester, Stevan Goran) 4:50 (power play). 3. Metro, Jacob Gleason (Jacob Drinkard) 9:35 (shorthanded). 4. Metro, Robert Flannery (Gleason, Devin Kelly) 15:57. 5. Cam Schwartz (Pearce Vance, Chase Sereno) 16:30.
Third period – 6. Great Falls, Tegan Harrington (Stevan Goran) 4:58. 7. Metro, Matt Dempsey (Graham Day, Drinkard) 10:48. 8. Metro, Mathias Tellstrom (Michael Tratar, Kevin Shand) 19:07 (empty net). 9. Great Falls, Tyler Garcia (Tegan Harrington) 19:31 (extra attacker).
Shots on goal – Metro 10-16-10—36. Great Falls 6-10-11—27.
Power play opportunities – Metro 0-for-2. Great Falls 1-for-2.
Goalies (shots-saves) – Metro, Kameron Limburg (W, 27-23). Great Falls, Jake Stephan (L, 35-31).
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans fall in Silver Cup semis, season ends (April 2, 2016)