By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
October 3, 2015
The Great Falls Americans hockey team comes at you in waves.
So far this season, the rest of the Frontier Division has zero answers for it.
The Americans of head coach Jeff Heimel rolled the lines and dominated the action Saturday night as they topped the Billings Bulls 4-1 in front of more than 800 fans inside the Great Falls IcePlex.
The Americans won the Frontier Division last season and look built for another postseason run, as early as it might be, this year.
“I don’t know where we end up at the end of the year, but I’m certainly enthusiastic,” Heimel said. “It’s a great group and they work extremely hard and we have a lot of talent this year. I’m just excited to see where we can take it.”
Great Falls remains atop the Frontier Division with a 5-0 record and 10 points. Billings fell to 0-3.
It took a few minutes for the Americans to find their legs, but they started to dominate puck possession midway through the first period.
It all began with defenseman Arseny Ivanov’s slap shot from the point. The rocket was stopped by the acrobatic left glove of Billings’ goaltender Brandon Brown, but the onslaught continued.
Seconds later, the top line of Tanner Congdon, Malachi Bushey and Josh Larson cycled the puck with precision passing and teamwork on a shift that lasted more than a minute in the Bulls zone.
“That was probably the best first period, the way we started a game, all year,” Heimel said. “We’ve come out a little bit slow, finished games but come out slow during the course of the last four games prior to this.
“I really liked how we came out, and I really liked our energy. We had buy-in across the board tonight from a lot of guys and that was good.”
Great Falls used its defensemen as outlets in the other team’s zone as it cycled the puck from low to high. As someone who plays along the blue line, defenseman Blake Miller didn’t mind it.
“Billings was really going down low,” Miller said. “So it opened up the points and whenever you can get it up to the point, it’s awesome getting shots on net and just moving it back and forth between the (defensemen). It’s unreal.”
The persistent pressure finally paid off when another Ivanov blast from the blue line caromed right to Olaf Jensen beside the net, who slid it to Adam Apangalook. Apangalook buried it to take a 1-0 lead with 10:12 left.
“Every line was just going,” said Miller, who graduated from C.M. Russell High last year. “It was just an all-round good team effort. We had a lot of energy.”
Two minutes later, on the penalty kill, Brendan Jester secured the puck in the opposition’s corner and perfectly fed Austin Krantz in the slot; he roofed it top shelf, glove hand side.
Tegan Harrington added the third goal of the period with a minute left, assisted by Krantz and Jester as the Americans peppered the Bulls net with 20 shots as they headed into the locker room. Starting Great Falls goalie Lauren Massie went mostly untested, redirecting six shots.
The net minder’s best save of the night came midway through the second frame. He kicked out a scoring chance with his left pad, but did so right to Billings forward Connor Melton. With a whole net vacant, Massie dove in desperation and made a sprawling, miraculous save to keep his shutout intact.
“That sequence,” Heimel said, “so that save combined with sort of a breakdown where the puck came up to the top and they shot it on net and Krantz blocked that big shot, that 10-second sequence really summed up what we are all about … to see that happen when we are already playing a very, very good hockey game, the fact that guys are buying in to that mentality, that makes us a very tough team to play against every night. That’s what’s most exciting.”
Stevan Goran gave the Americans a commanding 4-0 lead in the second period. Malachi Bushey found him wide open in the slot, and Goran fired home a wrist shot with 8:24 remaining. Great Falls outshot Billings 34-9 in the first two periods and 43-19 for the game.
Massie lost his shutout late in the third period when Billings’ Jeremy Vandekerkhove tallied a power play goal.
The Americans’ next game is Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the IcePlex as they welcome in the Yellowstone Quake for a two-game series to be concluded Saturday night.
Americans 4, Bulls 1
Billings 0 0 1 – 1
Great Falls 3 1 0 – 4
First period – 1. GF, Adam Apangalook (Olaf Jensen, Arseny Ivanov), 9:48. 2. GF, Austin Krantz (Brendan Jester), 11:16 (sh). 3. GF, Tegan Harrington (Krantz, Jester) 18:42
Second period – 4. GF, Stevan Goran (Josh Larson, Malachi Bushey), 11:36.
Third period – 5. Billings, Jeremy Vandekerkhove (Zach Heiser, Dillon Steh), 15:39 (pp).
Shots on goal by period – Billings 6-5-8—19. GF 20-14-9—43.
Goalies (shots/saves) – Billings, Brandon Brown (43/39). GF, Lauren Massie (19/18).
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Americans top Billings, stay unbeaten (October 3, 2015)