By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
September 29, 2016
The word rookie is a good way to describe Tanner Congdon’s knowledge of football, his following of the game.
But if last season is any indication, the second-year right winger for the Great Falls Americans takes to that role just fine, and that should worry our panel this week for Week Pick The Winners.
“I really like it here,” Congdon said. “I like the program. I like the staff. And I think that we can do big things.”
Congdon certainly did big things a year ago, winning the 2015-16 North American 3 Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year award for the league’s top newcomer – even more impressive when you consider the league is comprised of more than 30 squads.
He tallied a team-best 64 points (23 goals, 41 assists) in 44 regular-season games.
“Last year was a big building year for me,” Congdon, 19, said. “It was different coming from triple A, playing juniors. But I thought it worked out well and obviously we had a really good team.”
And a good coach, Jeff Heimel.
“Great coach,” Congdon said. “One of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He’s really good with the players, really personable. If you have any questions, you can go right into his office and ask him. He’ll be honest and straight up with you. He just runs a really good program because he knows what it takes and he knows how we have to act. It really translates to our game.”
With Congdon’s help, the Americans captured their second straight Frontier Division title and this year are 4-0 on the season, outscoring their opposition 34-4. Another contest is slated for Friday night, set for 7:30 at the Great Falls IcePlex against the Yellowstone Quake.
“I think we have possibly even more potential,” he said of this year’s squad compared to last year’s. “Everyone seems to be gelling really well this year.
“Last year it seemed like it took a little bit for us to ease into everything, but this year it seems like we just picked off where we left off. Everyone’s here and buying in, which is nice.”
Congdon’s family resides in Anchorage, Alaska, where’s he has spent part of his life, and he talks to them every day. But he hasn’t lived there for several years, this being his fourth season living with another family.
“They usually come down once a year,” he said of his parents.
Donna and Dane Garton, parents of former Americans forward and Great Falls native Dylan Garton, have opened up their home to Congdon and teammates Brendan Jester, Malachi Bushey and Mitchell Ramstad.
Congdon works at Staybridge Suites. The foursome goes its separate way throughout the day – whether it’s to a job or school – then returns to the Gartons for a home-cooked meal, usually followed by video games and movies.
Living nearly 2,500 miles away from home, Congdon has learned quite a bit about himself as a person, starting when he latched on to the Kansas City Mavs Elite, a hockey team in the Tier I Elite League, several years ago.
“It’s nice,” he said. “It helps you grow as a person. You learn to be responsible for things that most kids have their parents take care of when they stay at home. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons, like balancing a check book, getting to places on time, going to sleep when you have to. It just helps you grow as a person, and I think it’ll better me in life if hockey doesn’t go anywhere.”
Truth is, hockey has taken him close to everywhere.
He grew up in Calgary and Vancouver and became a huge fan of forward Jerome Iginla, whose prolific ability to find the back of the net has allowed him to remain viable in the NHL even at age 39 and score more than 600 goals in a career that is going on two decades.
Congdon, who doesn’t watch a lot of football but knew he had to pen Great Falls High, C.M. Russell High, Montana and Montana State as winners, said he’s been to well over 100 NHL games.
“Traveling from Alaska, we go to California, New York, a bunch of states,” he said. “And every time we’d go for a hockey trip, we’d go to an NHL game.”
Like Congdon’s selections this week across high school, college and NFL football, Iginla has left goaltenders guessing a time or two.
“He was my favorite player,” said Congdon, who’s already scored thrice this season. “I was always Number 12, but just recently change to Number 22.”
While collegiate hockey is one of Congdon’s main goals, he still has another year of eligibility remaining in junior hockey to refine his repertoire if he chooses to do so. Heimel has chosen to put Congdon on the top line, alongside center Matt Janke and left winger Sandis Mezharaups.
“My role is definitely go to be a leader, on and off the ice,” Congdon said. “For the most part, playmaking and goal scoring. With my line, all of us can put the puck in the net, but we can also dish the puck pretty well. That works well because on any given night we can all three score a goal, but we can also have three assists.”
He lacks the build – he’s 5-9, 165 – of other players around the league, but he doesn’t shy away from contact, his strength and speed showing noticeable improvements in recent years, he said.
“I get hit a lot, but I don’t like to have that affect me,” he said. “With the strength, if I get hit, maybe I don’t fall down, maybe I don’t get knocked off the puck. I’ll take a hit as long as I can keep the puck.”
That puck’s crossed the goal line many times for Congdon during the last season-plus. For the sake of our panel this week, let’s hope your accuracy, Tanner, takes the weekend off. At least on the gridiron.
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Congdon helping lead Americans once again, joins this week’s panel (September 29, 2016)