GF Tribune: Americans look to stay unbeaten, face Bozeman

By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer

September 22, 2016

As is tradition with the Great Falls Americans, the team hands out a puck to players who tally their first goal in junior hockey.

“It was a lot,” head coach Jeff Heimel said on how many times the exchange happened over the weekend, the team’s first two games of the Northern American 3 Hockey League and Frontier Division schedule, when it demolished the Glacier Nationals 11-0 and 9-0.

Great Falls starts a four-game homestand Friday night, to begin at 7:30 p.m. at the IcePlex against the Bozeman IceDogs. Saturday, the Americans take the ice against the Billings Bulls at the same time.

The fifth-year mentor estimates around 10 pucks were handed out, including one each to goaltenders Michael Hughes and Kyler Ayers for registering shutouts. Hughes and Ayers are replacing the formidable duo of Jake Stephan and Lauren Massie from last season, two of the top goalies in the entire league a year ago.

“I think, like anything, being tested is important,” Heimel said of his net minders. “You just don’t know how that’s going to play out until they get an opportunity to prove themselves in some higher-pressure situations. But, certainly, are recruiting has gone well. I think we have good goaltenders here, and I’m excited to see how, as the season progresses, they end up statistically because I do think that’s a piece that’s important to success.”

While the two squads were clearly on different levels talent-wise, Heimel said the contests allowed his team to look at areas that need fine-tuning, like where to be on the forecheck, how to improve the power play and what needs to be done defensively to shore up some gaps in the neutral zone.

“Truthfully, we took a lot out of this (past) weekend,” Heimel said. “But more systematically than anything else, just trying to tighten up a few things.”

Defensemen Danny O’Donnell, a 20-year-old newcomer along the blue line, and returner Jesse Johnson did a good job of that against the Glacier forwards, helping to hold the Nationals to just six shots on goal Friday night and preventing them from finding the back of the net in 120 minutes of action. O’Donnell scored three times, as did returning forward Brendan Jester, who leads in the team with five points.

“Everyone was chipping in,” Heimel said. “I am really excited about our offense this year. It’s good to have Jester and (Tanner) Congdon and (Tegan) Harrington and those guys back, that’s big. But at the same time, we pack a lot of punch up front, and I’m excited about our depth.”

Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans look to stay unbeaten, face Bozeman (September 22, 2016)