By Tribune Sports Staff
December 29, 2016
The Great Falls Americans proved once again to be one of the top hockey teams in the NA3HL’s Frontier Division in the first half of the season.
The Americans (18-3-2-3) begin the second-half of the season with a pair of games slated over the weekend, looking to keep up their winning ways in hopes of a third consecutive division title and appearance the Silver Cup, the league’s national tournament.
Great Falls hits the road against the Glacier Nationals (1-26-1) on Friday night at 8 p.m. at the Havre Ice Dome before returning home for a matchup with the Missoula Jr. Brunis (17-9-0-1) at the Great Falls Ice Plex on Saturday evening at 7:30.
Fifth-year Americans head coach Jeff Heimel said the team came back from the holiday break ready to work.
“We had 10 or 11 days on the break and we practiced yesterday for the first time coming back,” Heimel said on KINX’s Sports Chat on Thursday. “We’re just excited. It was a good break and we look refreshed. Missoula is a great hockey team, so I think we have a nice series coming up and we’re ready to get after it.”
The Americans are tied for second place in the Frontier with the Gillette Wild (20-5-1-0) with 41 points, six points behind the Yellowstone Quake (23-2-0-1) in the standings.
Heimel said Great Falls set itself up nicely heading into the break, winning nine games to only two losses, both of which came in either overtime or a shootout, which count as one point in the standings as compared to zero for a regulation loss.
“We’ve only lost three games in regulation this year and are coming off a pretty impressive stretch,” Heimel said. “We’re six points back from first place so we’re definitely in good position coming off the holiday break and heading into the home stretch as we look towards the postseason.”
Forward Tanner Congdon paces the Americans thus far with 40 points, scoring a team-high 23 goals on top of 17 assists, while defenseman Danny O’Donnell (14 goals, team-high 25 assists) and team captain Brendan Jester (18 G, 21 A) aren’t far behind with 39 points.
Rookie forwards Matt Janke (12 G, 22 A) and Payton McSharry (16 G, 16 A), both have over 30 points as well for Great Falls this season.
Nick Nast has also had a solid season in the net for the Americans, posting a 9-2-1-1 record and is in the Top 10 in the NA3HL with a save average over 93 percent.
“It’s pretty nice when you’ve got some good defenseman and a pretty good first line and a good goaltender,” Heimel said. “It gives you a chance to win on any given night.”
Heimel said he feels confident about the Americans’ chances of taking the Frontier and qualifying for the Silver Cup once again.
“I think it’s all about putting yourself into a position to get into the postseason in the first half and growing as a team,” Heimel said. It’s good to see the small growth I’ve seen on a week-to-week basis into what I think is a pretty good hockey team. It’s a different team because you never have the same type of team every year but we’re as capable as we’ve ever been.’
The Americans are 5-0 against Glacier this season and have won by a cumulative score of 51-0. Heimel’s squad is 3-1 so far against Missoula, which sits in fourth in the Frontier with 35 points.
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans resume play after holiday break (December 29, 2016)
Additional Media Coverage: December 29, 2016: KINX-FM (102.7 FM in Great Falls, MT: Great Falls Americans head coach Jeff Heimel was one of the guests on the Sports Chat on KINX 102.7FM on Thursday morning (December 29, 2016). He talked about 2016-17 season with radio hosts Jim Sargent (KINX-FM) and Great Falls Tribune Sports Writer Scott Mansch. Jeff comes on at about the 10:25 mark of the radio show and lasts about fifteen minutes (25:57). Click here to hear the Sports Chat with Americans head coach Jeff Heimel.