Photo: Courtesy of Braxton Lorenz
By Scott Mansch, Tribune Sports Writer
March 14, 2019
Four years ago, Braxton Lorenz and a buddy at Great Falls High found a bank bag with nearly a $1,000 in cash and checks and without hesitation turned it in to authorities.
“Yes, that was me,” he laughed. “I’m glad I found it and not another kid, because I don’t think too many would have given it all back.”
It was a decision he’s never regretted.
“No, never,” he said. “It just wasn’t right to take something that wasn’t mine. I like to work hard for what I get. Just like in hockey. I just try to put my nose in the dirt and work hard.”
It’s the type of attitude typical of this year’s Great Falls Americans, the Junior A team in the NA3HL that’s seeking another Frontier Division championship. The Americans of first-year head coach Greg Sears open a best-of-three semifinal series Friday night at 7:30 at the IcePlex atop Gore Hill.
Oh man, the team’s really excited,” said Lorenz. “ We think we have a strong team that can go pretty far. We’re just pumped. We want to get to the weekend already.”
Lorenz, 20, has played the last three seasons with the Americans. The 2017 Great Falls High graduate works part-time at the IcePlex and plans to attend Montana State University in the fall and try to play on the Bobcats’ club hockey team.
He hopes to become a civil engineer or perhaps study something in the medical field.
“I really like to help people out,” he said. “But I want to play hockey as long as I can.”
The lifelong Great Falls resident is proud of his hometown hockey heritage.
“It’s been great,” he laughed. “Growing up I really looked up to Connor Barta, who was another hometown kid who played here (for the Junior A Americans) for a while. It’s great. I’m glad I could spend all my hockey years here in Great Falls.”
He played baseball as a youth, but hockey has always been the No. 1 sport for Lorenz. Why is that?
“The team aspect of it all,” he said. “Having 20 brothers out there with me and going to war. That’s what I really love about hockey.”
Hockey has had a rich past in the Electric City.
“I’m very proud,” Lorenz said. “I like to be part of the history and I hope we can make some history by going to Nationals this year.”
Last year, the Americans finished 34-12-3-0. This season the team is 38-8-0-1, a record that included a 16-game winning streak through January and February.
“I think this is the most veteran team we’ve had in a while and it really shows on the ice,” Lorenz said. “We have strong leaders, and not just our captains. I think everybody on the team has taken on a leadership role. We’ve kind of cracked down on a few things. I think this is one of the better teams we’ve had in a while.”
Sears has picked right up where Jeff Heimel, the former highly successful Americans head coach who now is in charge of the club hockey program at the University of Providence, left off.
“We’re 17-1 since the Christmas break,” Sears said. “Sometimes losses are a good thing. I think these guys are motivated, and the wins that matter are ahead of us. The guys are excited. We’re right where we need to be, I think.”
The Americans have two outstanding goalies in Drew Scites and Vickor Wennberg.
“They’ve been unreal,” Sears said. “It’s unheard of to have two of that quality at this level. Drew is 19-4 and Victor is 17-2. Just rocks in the net for us.
“Payton (McSharry) has had a 90-point season, and that helps. But our D-corps is really good and experienced. It’s been a team deal.”
McSharry, who turns 21 on March 17, has 48 goals and 42 assists. The talented forward from Anchorage was also one of the team’s top scorers a year ago, when he scored 23 goals. This year he’s ramped his play up a notch.
“He’s mature,” Sears said. “He’s found his niche, and speed-wise there’s not many guys who can skate with him. He’s going to be a good college player.”
Where will McSharry matriculate?
“He’s got about 20 options,” Sears said of the 6-2, 190-pounder. “He’s going to go to a good school.”
Sears said the first-round playoff series with Bozeman, which was 28-15-4-0 in the regular season, should provide plenty of drama.
“They’re good, man,” Sears said. “They’re just young. We’re working hard this week to get better. I think Friday night will be awesome. We’ll have a good crowd and the guys are looking forward to that.”
Lorenz is one of them, for sure.
“He’s definitely one of our leaders and I’m proud of how far he’s come,” Sears said. “He’s a very smart player. Solid in front of the net and puts the puck in good places in our own end.”
The defenseman has improved greatly. Lorenz has 20 assists and two goals in 42 games this season.
“I’m not a big points guy. I like to stay home and take care of my own end first,” he said. “But this year I’ve had a bit of a breakout year, just trying to make plays and getting the puck to the kids who can score.”
The hometown crowd has responded to him.
“Working up at the rink I see a lot of the younger kids and their parents at their practices throughout the week,” he said. “I try to go out and help them once in a while. I love to see them at our games, cheering us on.”
Heimel built a fine legacy in six seasons with the Americans. It’s continued under Sears.
“(Sears) is a fantastic coach,” Lorenz said. “He’s brought a little bit of a different view to the game. I like what coach Sears has done with our team.
“Greg has carried on that winning tradition for us.”
Game 2 of the playoff series is Saturday in Bozeman, with Game 3, if necessary, slated back at the IcePlex on Sunday night. The winner of the series meets either Helena or Missoula in another best-of-three series for the Frontier Division championship and a trip to Chicago and the Fraser Cup, which serves as the NA3HL’s national tournament.
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Braxton Lorenz skating to success thanks to selfless attitude (March 14, 2019)