By Scott Mansch, Tribune Sports Editor

November 25, 2011

Stirling Wright recently took over as head coach of the Great Falls Americans Junior A hockey team, which has been winless the first two months of the American West Hockey League season.

Needless to say, the task of turning around the 0-16 Americans is a challenge.

“If it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be fun,” said Stirling.

The new coach will be behind the bench tonight at 7:30 as the Americans continue AWHL play against the Billings Bulls. It was suggested to him that much satisfaction will be gained if the team turns it around.

“Not if,” said Stirling. “There’s no if about it.”

Clearly, the former Wisconsin-Superior and professional hockey player plans on winning. He’s been in town now for about two weeks, and the roster looks dramatically different than it did when the season started in early October.

“We’ve made some great strides,” said Stirling. “And we’re going to continue to make strides.”

The Americans were the youngest team in the AWHL when the season began. Several older players are now skating for the team.

“We’ve made some pretty hefty changes,” Stirling said. “We’ve become a much larger team physically and we’re faster on the ice. And we’re certainly a little older,”

Stirling, 42, was an All-State linebacker back in the day as a high school athlete in Virginia. He had recruiting interest, but instead opted for hockey. He’s been a coach at various teams and levels for decades.

“Hockey is my life,” he said. Ah, but not today. For Stir ling is joining our illustrious panel. We typically end the contest in late November and the original plan was for last week’s to be our swan song.

But then upstart Jesse Geleynse turned in a brilliant 14-4 week and pulled ahead. And, you know, we couldn’t let the rookie win.

So, we’re back at it. (Might even continue the contest indefinitely, depending on how Jesse fares.)

This week’s slate features all kinds of college and pro games, but for Stirling there is only one. “Here’s your game of the week,” he said, circling the Virginia Tech-Virginia clash. “The Hokies, straight out. Beamer Ball. It’s a given.”

Last week, Bobcat-loving Chrissy Schnider turned in a credible 12-6. She missed on the big game in Bozeman, but we’re not going to mention it.

Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: We Pick the Winners: New coach not skating on thin ice (PDF) (November 25, 2011)