By Steven Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
December 14, 2014
It was a fairly innocuous sequence in the grand scheme of things.
In the second period of Saturday’s hockey game between the Great Falls Americans and the Gillette Wild, Zach Mese, from his backhand and from the confines of his own zone, tried a pass up the middle of the ice, a no-no in hockey. The Wild intercepted the pass and headed in on goaltender Evan Hauser.
Hauser crept outside the blue paint and challenged the shooter in the slot and made a good scoring chance seem rather pedestrian, gobbling the puck up in his gear as the whistle blew with no rebound chance to be had.
It wasn’t even Hauser’s best save of the night in front of the 580 fans packed inside the IcePlex – that came late in the first frame when he stopped a breakaway attempt and kicked out the rebound with his right pad – but it was a microcosm of Hauser’s play to date: When the team in front of him makes a mistake, he is there to back them up, and he often times makes it look easier than it actually is.
“I think he’s been big,” said Americans head coach Jeff Heimel, whose team beat the Wild 4-1 to improve to 22-3 on the season. “… The further you get out and (cut) off an angle, the harder it is for a guy to score. He gets out so far and is on top of his crease. He’s aggressive when we need him to be. Sometimes you have breakdowns … and it’s just big.”
Hauser came into Saturday’s game leading the NA3HL in every major statistical category: wins (13), goals against average (1.45) and save percentage (.956). What would have been his fourth shutout of the season was spoiled three minutes into the third, but the net minder stopped 39 of the 40 shots thrown his way.
He’s now 14-0 on the season.
“He’s just been outstanding,” said captain Dylan Garton. “ … He’s right there to back us up. He’s just been unreal for us this year.
Gillette beat Great Falls 5-0 on Friday night at the IcePlex. Garton was happy with how his team responded in what was a matchup of the Frontier Division’s top two teams.
“Oh, absolutely,” Garton said. “We couldn’t ask for anything better. We were all mad at ourselves because we definitely let one slip away (on Friday). We just came back and showed them who’s No. 1”
After Zach Mese scored to give the Americans, which had 39 shots on goal for the game, a 1-0 lead early, Garton, on a 2-on-1, dished a perfect pass to Austin Krantz who scored and they took a 2-0 lead a little more than five minutes into the game.
“It was just a good play by Malachi Bushey just chipping it off the wall,” Garton said. “It was a 2-on-1, and we work on it all the time in practice, and (Krantz) wanted me to shoot. I just saw the seam and he hammered it home for me.”
The Americans took a 2-0 advantage into the first intermission, outshooting their opponent 14-12. Great Falls took their lead and ran with it, dominating much of the second period – a period filled with trash-talking and penalties – spending tons of time in the Wild’s zone.
Its hard work paid off with 3:41 left, when Lucas Lomax found himself with the puck on his tape near the slot and buried home a twisted wrister low, stick side, his seventeenth goal of the season, to give it a commanding 3-0 lead.
Garton scored 13 seconds into the third on a nice feed from Marvin Simmons to make the score 4-0.
“I think we are growing and we are happy as a team,” Heimel said. “Yeah, it’s been a fun year and obviously things are going our way, but something special would be a good playoff performance and something to culminate all of the hard work that we are doing this year.”
Gillette…0 0 1 — 1
Great Falls…2 1 1 — 4
First Period: 1, Great Falls, Zack Mese (Malachi Bushey), 3:29; 2, Great Falls, Austin Krantz (Dylan Garton, Malachi Bushey), 6:01.
Second Period: 3, Great Falls, Lucas Lomax (Miles Giorgione), 16:19.
Third Period: 4, Great Falls, Dylan Garton (Marvin Simmons), 0:13; 5, Gillette, Brandon Beard (Mitchell McEwan), 2:48.
Power Plays: Gillette 0-2, Great Falls 0-1.
Goaltenders: Gillette, Alex Feese 28 shots, 24 saves; Great Falls, Evan Hauser, 40 shots, 39 saves.