By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
November 17, 2016
When it comes to compliments, there are perhaps none greater than when a hockey coach calls one of his players the team’s best two-way forward.
That willingness to not just show up on the offensive end but also sacrifice for your team on defense, in the corners, along the boards, enduring the physical punishment that it all entails, is something not all skaters possess.
That’s how Great Falls Americans head coach Jeff Heimel describes his first-line center, Brendan Jester, who leads the team in points (12 goals, 8 assists; tied with Tegan Harrington) and has been the middle of the program’s success the past two years.
“If you take away production, which he’s been exceptional at, just the leadership aspect has been great,” Heimel said of the Anchorage, Alaska, native. “He’s been a good leader on and off the ice. He’s been loyal and consistent and he works hard.”
Acquired in a trade, Jester came to Great Falls from the Glacier Nationals during the 2014-15 season. Heimel said Jester has improved as a hockey player ever since he arrived in the Electric City, and it all stems from his work ethic, from on the ice to in the weight room.
“He’s always had ability, but I think the biggest thing for him is he’s just flourished with confidence,” Heimel said. “He had a great year last year. He was our leading scorer last year through 20 games. He’s gotten a lot better and he’s been consistent.”
Even though Jester missed more than a dozen regular-season games last season because of a knee injury, he still compiled 40 points (17 goals, 23 points) in 34 contests.
In the midst of his final season of junior hockey due to his eligibility expiring, he is a big part – he’s the captain of the team – in helping the Americans to what they hope will be a third consecutive Frontier Division championship.
While he can find the back of the net, he can also prevent other teams from doing the same, a player Heimel is incredibly comfortable with in the team’s own zone. He is also efficient on draws, winning 60-plus percent, Heimel said, on face-offs.
“He’s not a flashy forward by any stretch of the imagination as far as just that raw skill,” Heimel said. “He has skill, but in a grinding and a sort of power forward mentality. I think his biggest asset is his ability to be a great two-way forward.
“He’s in there in a lot of offensive situations. But one-goal game, we’re up, we need to shut a team down, he’s on the ice, too. He’s been a good all-around, complete forward, which is not always something you can find.”
The Americans, 9-3-1-2 on the season and third in the Frontier Division, welcome a pair of teams to the Great Falls IcePlex this weekend when they play host to the Glacier Nationals on Friday night and the Missoula Junior Bruins on Saturday night. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:30.
Newcomer Danny O’Donnell is a defenseman and he already has 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) and a team-best plus-minus rating of plus-14.
“He skates well,” Heimel said. “He has a very, very good shot and good playmaking ability. Him and Jesse Johnson have probably seen the most minutes out of anyone on our team as defensemen. He produces. I don’t think we’ve had an offensive defenseman like him in the past.”
It’s been a slow start compared to where the team has been at in mid-November the past two seasons, Heimel said.
“We’re having our share of growing pains,” he said, “and we’re working through it. We’re obviously competing every single night and have been in multiple one-goal games. And we’re in a playoff spot right now, 15 games into the season and a good one at that. So I think we’re happy, but we’re not content, either. I think we can do better. We know we can do better.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Team Captain Jester an all-around player for Americans (November 17, 2016)