Photo: Courtesy of Great Falls Tribune File Photo
By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2015
There’s a saying that has caught fire in the Great Falls Americans locker room, team bus, wherever.
“What’s another week?”
The Frontier Division title holders, the Americans (38-10-3) have now played more than 50 games this season, a long and grueling season that started all the way back in early September.
The consensus among the players and coaches is why stop now?
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, head coach Jeff Heimel and the Americans were an hour outside of Chicago, in Wisconsin, as they continued their never-ending journey across the country to this week’s 2015 North American 3 Hockey League Silver Cup Tournament in Geneva, Ill.
“Other than the travel itself, which can get a little bit monotonous as far as riding the bus and whatnot, it’s just been fun,” Heimel said.
On Wednesday, the Americans toured St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and had a team practice. The bus ride, Heimel said, has been filled with iPhones, iPods and iPads, movies, reading and sleep.
“It’s kind of a team-builder in disguise,” Heimel said of the nearly 1,500-mile trip.
At the end of the day, the head coach said, the Americans didn’t travel all this way to lose.
“It’s one thing to just be happy that we are here, but the guys want to win,” he said.
The top two finishers this week — it’s a six-team field — advance to the Tier III National Tournament next week in Simsbury, Conn.
The Americans open the tournament with a matchup with the West Michigan Wolves at 4 in the afternoon on Thursday. The Wolves (31-15-1 in regular season) are the Central Division champions. Great Falls continues action Friday with a game vs. the Metro Jets at noon. The Jets (32-13-2) won the East Division. Heimel and Co. finish up with the North Iowa Bulls (37-9-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Bulls have won two consecutive Silver Cups and hoisted a national championship in 2013.
“You want to peak at the right time,” Heimel said. “We are firing on all cylinders … I feel like some teams this time of the year are counting down the days that the season ends because it’s been a long one. But not us. Guys are fired up.”
The six teams are split into pools: Pool A and Pool B. The Americans are in Pool B with North Iowa and West Michigan. The winner of each pool will face off Sunday at 1 in the afternoon, though both teams would advance to Nationals.
It should be exciting, Heimel said.
“Our whole joke in the locker room is, ‘What’s another week?’ Let’s get it done,'” he said. “It’s just been fun. There will be plenty of time in the off-season to relax and enjoy a break from hockey. But we’re obviously excited to be here.”