Photo: Courtesy of Larry Beckner, Tribune Photographer
By Steven Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
Friday, December 12, 2014
Expectations were high coming into the season for the Great Falls Americans, but even Jim Keough is surprised with how dominant they have been.
“Absolutely,” Keough, the team’s owner, said. “Four years ago, we were 1-47 and we just kept building and building. Last year, we had a really good year … Yeah, it’s just great news. It’s awesome to see what our team has built. Jeff (Heimel) has done a fantastic job building the program. And the kids are giving it 110 percent.”
Heimel, of course, is the head coach for the Americans, who are 21-2 on the season. He won Coach of the Year in the American West Hockey League last year, and he continues to provide stability that wasn’t seen around this area for many years. Keough went through three different coaches during that one-win season several years ago.
It’s no-nonsense with Heimel, Keough said. Looking back, Keough sums it up as “unbelievable” when describing the head coaching position from then to now.
“When you have a great coach like Jeff, you have consistency in the organization and it just draws people, draws players,” Keough said. ” … What an outstanding job Jeff does as far as coaching and mentoring these young players.”
Heimel has done a near-miraculous job, but the players on the ice have been just as good. Evan Hauser, its No. 1 goalie, has the best stats in the entire league: He hasn’t lost a game (13-0), his goals against average is 1.45 (first) and his save percentage (.956) is also tops overall. His backup, Lauren Massie, isn’t bad either. The newcomer allows only 1.60 goals each time he’s between the pipes, third in the league (there are 31 teams in the North American Hockey League).
“I think the chemistry as far as the veterans,” Keough said on what’s working. “Like Evan Hauser, he’s the best goalie in the nation. Our young goalie, (Lauren Massie), is number three out of 70 goalies. So Jeff has done a great job of kind of putting the pieces together with the veterans and the rookies, or the younger kids.”
The Americans, No. 1 in the Frontier Division, won all three games at the 2014 NA3HL Showcase earlier this week in Minnesota, where Great Falls had the chance to compete against other teams outside of its division.
Heimel and Co. are home this weekend for a two-game series with the Gillette Wild, who are No. 2 in the Frontier and seven points behind the Americans. The puck drops tonight at 7:30 at the IcePlex, while the start time Saturday is the same.