Photo: Courtesy of Larry Beckner, Tribune Photographer
By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
Friday, January 9, 2015
The Great Falls Americans are adjusting to life without their star net minder.
Evan Hauser, statistically the No. 1 goalie in the North American 3 Hockey League (Tier III) this season, was recently called up to the Kenai River Brown Bears, part of the NAHL, a Tier II junior hockey league.
For the Americans, Hauser manned the net in impressive fashion with unthinkable numbers, winning all 14 of the games he played, allowing 1.42 goals per game and stopping .957 percent of the pucks shot his way.
He even had two assists.
He’s a goalie, remember.
While his abilities between the pipes will surely be missed – Great Falls is 1-2 since his departure – Hauser’s veteran leadership in the locker room, head coach Jeff Heimel says, will be as well.
“You can never replace a kid like that,” said Heimel, whose team is 25-5 this season.
Lauren Massie will have to try.
A Wasilla, Alaska native, Massie was the backup to Hauser all season. Now, he will have to assume the starting role perhaps sooner than anyone could have imagined.
But Heimel is confident he can do the job. Massie doesn’t have the all-world numbers like Hauser did, but a 2.06 goals against average and .924 save percentage isn’t too bad either.
Not in the least. With the offensive talent of the Americans, they can win a lot of games with those numbers. So can a lot of hockey teams.
“Lauren, at this point, is the guy,” Heimel said. “And he knows it. He knows that it’s his job to lose. And he’s been competing and stepping up. I’ve noticed an increase from him in practice and different things. He’s definitely has a little bit of fire, which is good.”
Because Massie moved from backup to starter, Heimel and the Americans had to find another goalie. And they seem to have found their guy in Wyatt Monear, who was picked up from the airport Thursday.
Monear, a young goalie born in 1998, has been playing AAA hockey in Colorado in recent months but is originally from Alaska. Monear, from the same town as Massie, was drafted in the 2013 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft by the Saskatoon Blades, which Heimel calls “huge.”
“Down the stretch, if Lauren needs a rest, he is going to get an opportunity to step in and win some hockey games,” Heimel said. “The good thing is, even though he’s young, he’s a very, very solid goaltender. And we need to have two guys who can be potentially capable, God forbid, injuries and whatnot.”
Great Falls, with 50 points, has led the Frontier Division all season long; it is five points ahead of second-place Gillette (the Wild have played two more games) and nine points ahead of third-place Helena (the Bighorns have played one fewer game).
The Americans begin a two-game homestand this weekend; they play the Billings Bulls on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and the Glacier Nationals on Sunday at 4 in the afternoon.
Heimel – whose team is pretty healthy except for Czech defenseman Michael Kliment, who will miss this weekend’s games because of a knee injury – said his team had a “wakeup call” practice the day after it lost to Billings, 6-1, on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t satisfied with that type of hockey, he said.
Or the power play. Against Billings, Great Falls had nine power play opportunities and didn’t score once. In a 2-0 loss to Helena this past Sunday, it was 0-3.
The Americans look to improve their production with the man advantage this weekend, when it faces a Billings team that they could face in the first round of the playoffs – “it’s time to send a message,” Heimel said of the game against the Bulls – and a last-place Glacier team that has nothing to lose.
All while continuing life without, perhaps, their most impactful player.
“I think the message is, we are looking at two teams that we are playing … that have beat us when we haven’t been our best,” the head coach said. “I think we learned that teams want to knock us off, and they want to beat us.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune (January 9, 2015)