GF Tribune: Great Falls Americans fend off last place Nationals

Photo: Courtesy of Larry Beckner, Tribune Photographer

By Lee Vernoy, Tribune Sports Writer

January 12, 2015

One wouldn’t think a hockey puck can bounce, but they can.

And, like any other ball in sports, sometimes those bounces can be a bit funny.

One of those funny bounces landed right in front of Malachi Bushey, who turned that bounce into an unassisted goal in the first period that helped carry the Great Falls Americans past their northern rivals, the Glacier Nationals, 2-1 in a NA3HL Frontier Division match at the IcePlex.

The 499 folks in attendance were treated to textbook hockey by their league-leading (26-5-0, 52 points) squad, starting with Bushey’s goal just 33 seconds into the game.

“The puck took a weird bounce, and he was in the right spot and went in on a breakaway,” Americans coach Jeff Heimel said of Bushey’s goal. “But after that goal, (Glacier goalie Ryan Lund) settled in and made it tough on us. He’s a solid goaltender and he was definitely their best player tonight.”

It was the fourth goal of the year for the 18-year-old from Tucson, Ariz. Lund, an Anchorage, Alaska native who will celebrate his 21st birthday Wednesday, faced 56 shots and stopped or deflected all but two, and Bushey would have a hand in on this one as well, as Zach Mese’s fifth tally made it 2-0 and gave the Americans some much needed breathing room. Electric City native Dylan Garton also had an assist on the goal at 6:35 of the second stanza.

“It starts with Mese,” Heimel said. “Bushey gets the puck on the half wall and he’s moving up the ice, while Mese moves his feet all the way to the back post. If he doesn’t move his feet to the back post, that option isn’t available … but Bushey makes a great pass across brcause of Mese’s hard work, and we were able to score.”

Lauren Massie, who took the No. 1 goaltending job after two-year veteran Evan Hauser, with his 14-0 record and 1.42 goals-against average, was called up to the Tier 2 NAHL, was perfect for 541/2 minutes until North Dakota native Wyatt Fretheim scored off passes from Dustin Foran and Tyler McMahon.

After that, Massie, from Wasilla, Alaska, reached over, flipped a switch, and it was literally lights out the rest of the way. The last place Nationals (6-21-5, 17 pts.) only had 17 shots on goal the entire game, and was held to five shots in the first and last periods.

“Lauren has been a spectacular goaltender all along,” Heimel said. “It just happened that Evan had been pretty special this year and was playing lights out, so Lauren got overshadowed a little bit. But now Lauren’s getting a chance to step up and shine a little bit. And he’s risen to the occasion.

“I knew all along he was going to be good, and a lot of people started pushing the panic button when Evan left, and that’s why you have two good goalies. You can have injuries, and at the end of the day, it’s a long season and you got to have two guys who are able to go. I know he wishes he had (that third period goal) back; they shot it from the corner.”

Glacier, based in Havre, called time out to work a plan out for the final minute of the game where they would pull their goalie and gain an extra attacker. There was just one problem: the Americans weren’t willing to co-operate. As least, not until there were 13 seconds left in the game.

“We’ve been good down low all game, and I just told our guys to just keep the puck,” Heimel added. “We had done well against their defense, and the only time I felt like they could get the puck is if we traded turnovers. It wasn’t about scoring goals at that point, it was about moving the puck, moving your feet and keeping it low and getting things going. And when they did get the puck, they didn’t have much to look at.

“I don’t think at any time we were really worried. We played a good, solid hockey game and controlled the pace of the game for the most part.”

The Americans, with the lowest GAA in the league, will be on the road for the next five matches, starting this Friday night against these same Nationals at the Havre Ice Dome.

Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune (January 12, 2015)