By Kevin Scott
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MISSOULA, Mont., March 20, 2021 — The #2 Great Falls Americans (26-11-2-0) and the #4 Missoula Junior Bruins (21-17-2-0) have each won four games this season when they faced each other on the ice.
Great Falls’ offense rose to the challenge to know off the Missoula Junior Bruins 5-2 in the Americans second-to-last regular season contest of the season during Saturday’s junior hockey action from Missoula, Montana. Jake Hayes scored twice while Kellen Harris added one goal and one assist for the Americans.
Missoula finished the regular season tonight at home while Great Falls still has one more road meeting with the Helena Bighorns (Tuesday, March 23rd, 7:05PM) before they begin the postseason. The top four teams in the Frontier Division (Sheridan (WY) Hawks, Great Falls Americans, Gillette (WY) Wild, and the Missoula Jr. Bruins) are a safe bet with Sheridan and Great Falls already assured the first two spots in April’s Divisional Semi-Finals.
Great Falls’ offense was on fire in the first stanza as the visiting team racked up three goals while allowing one when the first twenty minutes ended. Henry Chavez, Jake Hayes, and Micah Serino each put the puck between the pipes with the first nine minutes of play. Missoula was finally able to get on the scoreboard with a score by forward Mason Mowat with an assist coming from Zachary Zielinski. Kellen Harris, Garret Weisenburger, and Brindamour Beard earned assists on Chavez’s and Serino’s scoring drives. Hayes score was short-handed. Great Falls attempted 12 of the 17 shots.
Both squads had many opportunities (18 total) to get the puck into the net but only the Americans capitalized on one goal. Jake Hayes recorded his second score of the night with assists going to Jackson Henningsgard and Lucas Gudz with five minutes remaining in the middle period. The Bruins were held to just five shots for the second straight frame. Great Falls had 13 of their 25 after the first intermission.
Each squad accumulated one goal in the final period. The first goal didn’t come until there was six minutes remaining on the clock. Jacob Saenger cut Missoula’s deficit to 4-2 while the Americans were in the penalty box. Gavin Tritt and Kieran Christianson set up the Bruins second score. Alaska native Kellen Harris ensured the Americans 26th win when he sailed the puck all the way down the length of the ice for the empty net score. The final tally came with 29 seconds left as Missoula elected to take out their goaltender (Maxim Currie) to add another offensive player on the ice during the final minute.
The Americans were whistled for seven penalties that resulted in 35 minutes of penalty time and went 0-4 on the power play. Missoula incurred five minor penalties with ten minutes spent off the ice. Jacob Saenger’s third stanza score was the only power play (out of five) that was successful for the Bruins. Five minor penalties were made by the host squad.
Ben Winkler won his fifth consecutive game with the Americans by swatting away 15 of the 17 shots-on-goal produced by the Bruins offense. Maxim Currie of Missoula had his record fall to 14-12-0-0 and amassed 27 saves in his final regular season outing against the Americans.
NOTE: As previously announced, the Missoula Junior Bruins will not be field a team next year (at least in Missoula) due to ongoing challenges including a non-renewed contract with Missoula Youth Hockey Association Board (see story). Unless both squads meet in the playoffs, this was the last contest being played against these two rivals.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans wrap up their 2020-21 NA3HL Frontier Division regular season schedule with a road contest against the Helena Bighorns. The puck is set to drop at 7:05PM (MST) from the Helena Ice Arena on Tuesday, March 23rd. HockeyTV will provide the coverage of the final game of the season and the upcoming playoffs with a paid subscription.
Great Falls will be the #2 seed in the playoffs beginning in April. Although their opponent hasn’t been determined yet, they will play game one of the best-of-three Frontier Divisional Semi-Finals on the road but will host Game 2 in Great Falls on Friday, April 2nd and an if necessary, Game 3 will also take place at the Great Falls Ice Plex on Saturday, April 3rd. Times and opponent will be announced in the next week.