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)

Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Great Falls High kid rescues church money (January 16, 2015)