GF Tribune: Americans move to Frontier finals

By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer

March 17, 2017

Jeff Heimel said Wednesday night that he expected nothing less after Tanner Congdon scored three goals and handed out two assists in a playoff victory over Gillette.

That tells you what Heimel thinks of the Anchorage, Alaska, native.

The bar was raised yet another notch Friday night.

Congdon backed up his hat trick with another one at the Great Falls IcePlex, where a passionate crowd of 1,075 watched the Americans top the Wild 3-1 in a semifinal series of the Frontier Division playoffs.

“I haven’t seen that type of a performance in a semifinal series since Lucas Lomax scored four against Billings and then three again the next night to put them away,” said Heimel, the Great Falls head coach. “It was a really, really great performance from him and an awesome weekend. I really expect him to just do that a lot. He’s a great player, but he never lets it get to his head. He just plays, and I love it.”

Congdon said he’s never had an individual stretch like this one.

“Everything was just bouncing my way,” he said. “Just found the back of the net.”

Great Falls won the best-of-three series 2-0 and will face the winner of the Yellowstone-Bozeman in the championship round. Its opponent could be decided as soon as Saturday night after the Quake, the regular-season champions of the Frontier Division, cruised to any easy triumph on Friday.

Congdon finished the regular season with 82 points (41 goals, 41 assists), which placed him in the top 10 among skaters in the 48-team North American Hockey League.

Congdon was handed the Sam Williamson Trophy pregame. It was the first installment of the award, given to the team’s point leader during the season. Williamson, a team captain for Great Falls from 1955 to the mid-1960s who spent time on the ice with the late Terry Casey, is the Americans’ all-time leading scorer.

The top line of Congdon, Brendan Jester and Payton McSharry lifted Great Falls, which managed 33 shots on the night, to a lead in the first period. McSharry’s brilliant puck-handling ability, as well as an on-time cross-ice feed, allowed the Americans to escape pressure in their own zone.

“He can make you miss,” Heimel said of McSharry. “He’s very, very skilled, but what’s more impressive about him is that he also works hard. He moves his feet. He hits guys. I think with skill, you have the tendency to float around a little bit, but he’s been great too.”

After McSharry pushed the puck up the ice, Jester found himself with it behind the Gillette net, and located Congdon, who scored from just outside the crease for his 45th goal of the season and a 1-0 advantage with 15:17 remaining in the first. The Americans withstood two 5-on-3 penalty kills toward the end of the first, kept above water behind the steady goaltending of net minder Nick Nast.

On the night, Nast denied two point-blank breakaway chances. The second one, with eight minutes left in the game and Great Falls holding a 3-1 edge, was perhaps the save of the game. Gillett’s Nick Stockert tried to beat Nast between the legs, and Nast redirected it out of play.

“Unreal,” Congdon said of Nast, who stopped 30 shots. “And it’s expected. He’s just a great goalie, and we always know he’s going to make those big saves in the big games.”

Great Falls gained a 2-0 cushion five minutes into the second, when Jester corralled a loose puck in the neutral zone and approached the Gillette net on a 2-on-1 alongside Congdon. Jester fed Congdon, who buried it under the cross bar. The lead was cut to 2-1 less than two minutes later. Congdon answered late in the frame on a low shot to the far side. It was Congdon’s 47th goal of the season.

Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans move to Frontier finals (March 17, 2017)