By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
September 15, 2016
The Great Falls Americans have seemingly gotten better and better in each and every one of Jeff Heimel’s four seasons behind the bench, so it wouldn’t exactly please the rest of the Frontier Division to see them follow a similar trajectory in Year 5.
Heimel and the Americans, the two-time defending league champions, step onto the ice for the first game of the 2016-17 schedule Friday night at the Great Falls IcePlex, where the new look Tier III Junior A hockey team squares off with the Glacier Nationals at 7:30.
“We are just excited to get on the ice,” Heimel said. “I think it’s going to be a very, very electric atmosphere.
The road to a three-peat begins with forward Tanner Congdon.
An Anchorage, Alaska, native, Congdon led the team in points a year ago. In the 44 regular season games that he played in, he totaled 64 points (23 goals, 41 assists) and five game-winning goals.
“It always helps to have that type of offense coming back,” Heimel said.
Brendan Jester, who will be the team captain this year as he enters his third season with the squad, is another capable skater on offense who found the back of the net 17 times prior to the 2016 postseason. Tegan Harrington (13G, 14A) and Malachi Bushey (5G, 9A) are also names that are expected to take that next step.
“I’m certainly excited about what we have,” Heimel said. “We replaced a lot from last year, but all of the prospects are very, very good hockey players.”
Like any offseason in this league, the Americans, as Heimel points out, lost considerable talent. Their defense, which was so strong a year ago with names like Reed Link and Great Falls native Connor Barta, has undergone significant reconstruction. Great Falls returns only one defensemen from its blue line, Jesse Johnson.
“We are definitely rebuilding quite a bit in that area,” Heimel said. “We certainly expect him, an alternate captain, to have a lot of veteran leadership on the blue line.”
The Americans went 41-13-2 a year ago. They advanced to the North American 3 Hockey League’s national tournament, the Silver Cup, in Chicago for the second consecutive season. After not winning a game there in 2015, Heimel and Co. advanced to the semifinals and saw much success in 2016.
“Truthfully, they have a little chip on their shoulder,” said Heimel, who is 133-68-11 in four seasons. “We’ve worked hard to get to that Silver Cup tournament and had a good showing last year. But we were right there and certainly want to expand that this year and go for a championship.”
Three Things to Watch
1. The Glacier Nationals, Great Falls’ opponent Friday night, was last in the Frontier Division in 2015-16. The Nationals, which moved from Whitefish to Havre back in 2014, won just two of their 47 games a year ago.
2. Including postseason, the Americans were 20-5-1 at home a season ago. The IcePlex, where they start the 2016-17 season Friday, has been very kind to them in the past.
3. Braxton Lorenz, who last played for the Great Falls Americans high school squad, is the lone name from Great Falls on the roster this season, filling in for Blake Miller and Connor Barta, two Electric City products who made significant contributions on the squad last season.
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans open hockey season on Friday (September 15, 2016)
Additional Media Coverage: September 15, 2016: KINX-FM (102.7 FM): Americans coach Heimel a guest on radio show this week:Great Falls Americans head coach Jeff Heimel was one of the guest’s on the Sports Chat on KINX 102.7FM on Thursday morning. He talked about the upcoming 2016-17 season with radio hosts Jim Sargent and Great Falls Tribune Sports Writer Scott Mansch. Jeff comes on at about the 40:50 mark of the radio show and lasts about nine minutes. Here is the link: https://network1sports.com/radioarchives/kinx/kinx-09-15-2016-starting-at-07-05AM.mp3