By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
March 17, 2016
The mindset was this: play “simple” hockey.
That’s what the Great Falls Americans tried to do in the overtime periods here at the Great Falls IcePlex Thursday night against the Bozeman IceDogs.
Jesse Johnson did it perfectly.
He bolted down the right side and, from a bad angle, threw the puck in front of the Bozeman net for the game-winner 1:29 into double overtime for a 2-1 victory.
Ricards Bernhards, who crashed the net and appeared to have deflected it, was credited with the goal, but he said he never touched it.
“Jesse got that goal,” Bernhards said afterward. “It went straight in from the far side. That was straight Jesse.”
Johnson’s goal was exactly what head coach Jeff Heimel was preaching.
“Be simple,” he said. “The simpler we can get pucks out and get going north and south, the less we leave ourselves open to a fatigue issue or a turnover, something like that. It showed toward the last five minutes of the first overtime where we tried to get a little too cute and they came back and had a few opportunities. Just simple. Their goalie played great, and their whole team played great, but just stay at it. Don’t deviate from the plan.”
The Americans and IceDogs battled back and forth in the extra period, finishing with 17 shots apiece. Great Falls controlled most of the action early on, then Bozeman responded with a late surge that yielded several nervous moments for the crowd of 388.
Great Falls, the Frontier Division’s two seed, came in with a 34-11-2 record. Bozeman, the three seed, entered with a mark of 29-11-7. It was a first-round matchup of the Frontier Division playoffs.
The Americans and IceDogs played each other six times during the regular season, and each team won thrice. Game 2 of the best-of-3 series continues Friday night in Bozeman, and an if-necessary Game 3 has been set for Sunday at 4 in the afternoon at the IcePlex.
Great Falls controlled most of the action in the first 20 minutes. But it was Stephen Frank, the Bozeman goaltender who came in with a 2.4 goals against average, who shut the door the door time and again. A Great Falls power play early in the frame was stymied by Frank’s quick reflexes and flashy glove hand.
Frank stopped 61 shots. Great Falls’ Jake Stephan shielded away 40.
Heimel asked if this was a frustrating game knowing the shot differential.
“Nope,” he said. “Playoff hockey. And if we get frustrated, that’s when we lose this game. You have to say even-keeled the whole time. We came out on the winning end of it, and it’s big.”
As Great Falls kept coming and coming, Frank, especially at certain points later in the game, did his best Martin Brodeur impersonation.
Outshot 11-8 in the first period, Bozeman nearly took the lead late in the stanza when a rebound chance found the stick of a IceDog skater, who rang it off the post, with a half-vacant net in front of him and Great Falls net minder Jake Stephan out of position.
Stephan, who owned a 2.15 goals against average and .926 save percentage during the regular season, was, like Frank, terrific in overtime.
In the second period, it was much of the same for the Americans.
Tanner Congdon nicked the post in close. Then Josh Larson and Ricards Bernhards played catch for a scoring chance as the Americans started to dominated the time with the puck. Brendan Jester had back-to-back shots on the same shift, and his line of Austin Krantz and Stevan Goran cycled the puck with precision. Adam Apangalook had two cracks at it out in front of the net. After a Bozeman turnover, Kyle Johnson found space for a wrist shot on Frank.
But, like it was in the opening period, the Americans had nothing to show for it. Despite peppering the Bozeman net to the tune of 31 shots in the first two frames and allowing just 12 against Stephan, Great Falls and Bozeman skated into the third period with the score tied at zero.
Heimel’s squad outshot Bozeman 20-4 in the second period.
A minute into the third period, Congdon perfectly lofted a cross-ice pass to Bernhards while on an odd-man advantage. Sliding from his right to left, Frank sprawled across to stop a Bernhards, who one-timed the shot from just a few feet out.
Bozeman broke the scoreless draught with 14:46 left in the third. Stephan kicked a shot out with his left pad, and Zach Frasier buried home the rebound for a 1-0 IceDog lead.
Great Falls tied the game less than six minutes later after Wade Wyle drew a penalty after a Bozeman defender whacked Wylie’s stick out of his hands.
Exactly 50 seconds later, Brendan Jester corralled a loose puck beside Frank, to his right, near the goal line. Jester made one quick move, sliding the puck underneath Frank, for the equalizer. Miles Giorgione and Goran earned the assists on Jester’s 18th of the year.
Great Falls held a 44-24 advantage in shots through three periods.
Game 1: Americans 2, IceDogs 1, 2OT
Bozeman 0 0 1 0 0 — 1
Great Falls 0 0 1 0 1 — 2
First period – no soring.
Second period — no scoring.
Third period – 1. Bozeman, Zach Frasier (Steven Nisbet, Casey Gobel) 5:14. 2. Great Falls, Brendan Jester (Miles Giorgione, Stevan Goran) 9:50 (pp).
First overtime – no scoring.
Second overtime – 3. Great Falls, Ricards Bernhards (Jesse Johnson, Josh Larson) 1:29
Shots on goal by period – Bozeman 8-4-12-17-0–41. Great Falls 11-20-13-17-2–63.
Power plays – Bozeman 0 for 2. Great Falls 1 for 2.
Penalties-minutes – Bozeman 4:00 on two penalties. Great Falls 2:17 on two penalties.
Goalies-saves – Bozeman, Stephen Frank (L, 63 shots, 61 saves). Great Falls, Jake Stephan (W, 41 shots, 40 saves).
T – 2:57. A – 388.
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Johnson lifts Americans in 2OT (March 17, 2016)