By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
November 7, 2014
The Great Falls Americans have only allowed three goals in a single game once this season.
“Really?” head coach Jeff Heimel laughed.
It’s an impressive statistic for an Americans team that is an undefeated 12-0 during the early goings this year.
The unblemished record can largely be attributed to their depth and their defense. Great Falls boasts two of the top six goaltenders in the entire North American Tier III Hockey League.
Returning net minder Evan Hauser ranks second overall with a goals against average of 1.00. He also has an ungodly save percentage of .970 and two shutouts.
“He’s special,” Heimel said of Hauser. ” … He’s showing a veteran confidence in the net that is exciting to see right now.”
His backup, a new face in Lauren Massie, is ranked sixth overall allowing only 1.80 goals per game.
“Between goaltending and our defensive core, I think it’s the best it’s ever been,” Heimel said. “I’m excited about that.”
While the men between the pipes have been stellar, the bruisers along the blue line have been just as good. Lucas Stover (11 points), Michael Kliment (10), Miles Giorgione (10) headline a group of defensemen that are often offensive-minded.
“Their ability to defend well and take pressure off our goaltender, but just the ability, their offensive ability to receive a puck in the defensive end, make a play and get the puck out quickly and get things going back the other way, I think that’s helped tremendously as well,” Heimel said.
Arseny Ivanov, Connor Barta, Reed Link and Hunter Garris have also played well.
“We have a good balance between guys who do a lot offensively and stay-at-home defensemen as well,” he said.
The Americans lost some pretty dynamic goal scorers in the offseason. They have filled that void with a committee-like approach: six players have scored five or more goals this season, the leader being newcomer Robert Kalata with seven goals. The Park Ridge, Ill., native also leads the team in points at 16.
“Our forwards have really matured,” Heimel said. “I think initially we were struggling to find the net a little bit early on. We have a great group of returners.”
The Americans have seven players with 10 points or more. One of those returners that Heimel speaks of is Lucas Lomax, who has 11 points even after missing several games because of injury. Newcomer Marvin Simmons has 11, and captain Dylan Garton has nine.
Heimel also mentioned Erik Gatson, newcomer Devin Panceza, the youngest player on the team, and Adam Apangalook as players who have performed well.
“We are getting a lot of contributions from pretty much every position,” Heimel said. “It’s been exciting … We have balance, and that allows us to be really, like our game plan all year has been to use all four of our lines and all three pairs of (defensemen) to wear teams down with our depth. … It allows us to play a style where we are just competing super hard. (Other teams) just get exhausted.”
The highlight of the season thus far?
A 1-0 victory over the Helena Bighorns, which swept the Americans in last year’s finals. Heimel and his group open a two-game home stand at the IcePlex starting tonight with the Billings Bulls and close with that same Helena team on Saturday night.
“At the end of the day, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have a little bit of a sour taste in mouth from last year regarding Helena,” Heimel said. “… To come away with a win early in the season, it was exciting.”
As far as injuries, the Americans are fairly healthy. Cody Page, who missed some time to open the season because of a separate injury, is out for a month and is having hernia surgery in California, and Wade Wylie, who is second on the team with 14 points, will miss another three weeks because of mono, Heimel said.
But the Americans can handle it. They will keep winning games. Their depth allows for it.
“I see little things on the ice that I really like right now,” Heimel said. “I think that’s the great part about this team: we are going to have injuries, and every team is going to have injuries, but I think the fact that we have guys stepping up, different guys on a night to night basis, filling in and doing different things, it’s huge. I feel like we are playing as good of hockey as we’ve played all year.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune (November 7, 2014)