By Kevin Scott
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GREAT FALLS, Mont., February 2, 2017 — When the Great Falls Americans (30-3-2-3) and the Helena Bighorns (11-26-1-0) meet on the ice it is always a great rivalry.
Second-seeded Great Falls have seen a win in three of the four earlier meetings (3-0-1) this season against their Interstate 15 rivals 100 miles apart. The Americans took the first three victories playing each other once in October (28th), November (26th) and December (9th) before coming out on the losing end in a 3-2 overtime loss on December 10th.
The Americans, under head coach Jeff Heimel, are coming off wins against Billings (11-0) and Bozeman (5-4) last weekend and are currently riding a 11-game win streak dating back to a December 30th setback to the Peoria (IL) Mustangs during the final day of the 2016 NA3HL Showcase in Michigan. Tanner Congdon leads the team in points with 64 including 31 goals followed by Brendan Jester with 26 goals and Danny O’Donnell has the most assists with 38. The trio of players haven’t missed a game this season playing in all 37 contests.
Sixth-seeded Helena is on the opposite end of the spectrum with a seven-game losing streak including two home losses at the hands of the Gillette Wild last weekend in Helena, Montana. Chino Hills, California native Bradley Estrada continues to lead the Bighorns in both goals scored (28) and assists (18). Minnesota native John Heddle is among the team leaders with his 35 points (20 goals and 15 assists) for coach Bob Richards’ squad.
Six different players scored one goal apiece during the first two periods for the Great Falls Americans on Thursday night as they easily defeated the Helena Bighorns 6-1 at the Great Falls Ice Plex.
Ricards Bernhards got the scoring started for the Americans seven minutes into the first period. His fourth of the season came from Tanner Congdon and Brendan Jester. Three minutes later, Adam Vandenbos’ unassisted tally put the home team on top, 2-0. Malachi Bushey and Sandis Mezharaups set up the final goal of the period when they fed Anaheim, California native Michael Fary to send the Americans into the first intermission with a three-goal advantage. Fary’s seventh goal in an Americans uniform came with 37 seconds on the clock. Great Falls took 18 of the 24 shots-on-goal, had one minor penalty and goaltender Nick Nast had six of his 26 saves.
The second period started out just like the opening stanza. This time, Brendan Jester registered his 26th goal as Tanner Congdon and Ricards Bernhards created and set up the scoring drive. The recipient of the Americans fifth point was Adam Vandenbos. Payton McSharry and Normunds Vibans assisted on the score that came with 14 minutes remaining before the second intermission. After picking up one assist in each of the first two periods, Tanner Congdon ended the period by finding the back of the net off the stick of forward Mitchell Ramstad and defenseman Quinn Stuebner. The Great Falls offense attempted over twice as many shots (39-16) as the visiting team did after the first forty minutes.
Just when it looked like the home team was going to get another shutout victory, Helena prevented that in the third period when Ben Kottmeier lit up the lamp on the only power play chance of the game. Kyle Hayter and John Heddle each added one assist for the only score of the final stanza that came with 1:38 left in the junior hockey contest.
Great Falls was penalized twice and went 0-for-3 on the power play. Helena had two of their three penalties in the middle period and scored on one of their two power play chances.
The Americans gathered 57 total shots-on-goal and limited the Bighorns to 27.
Nick Nast added another win as the Americans goaltender. He never allowed a goal for the first 58 minutes until Helena’s Ben Kottmeier sailed the puck by him. He finished with 26 saves. Nicholas Battaglia allowed six shots and ended his night with 51 saves in Helena’s 27th setback.
NEXT CONTEST: The Helena Bighorns and Great Falls Americans will switch venues but not opponents when they battle at the Helena Ice Arena on Saturday, February 3rd beginning at 7:05PM.