By Kevin Scott
GREAT FALLS, Mont., March 13, 2015 — In their first season as members of the North American 3 Hockey League’s (NA3HL) Frontier Division, the Great Falls Americans (37-10-3) and the Helena Bighorns (36-13-2) have met on the ice eight times during the 2014-15 regular season. Great Falls has a 4-2-2 record against their rivals from Helena, Montana this season including winning the first four matchups. The Great Falls franchise has accumulated 23 goals and has allowed just 10 goals in their season series.
Both teams qualified for the 2015 NA3HL Playoffs along with the Billings Bulls and the Gillette (WY) Wild.
In last week’s NA3HL Frontier Semifinals, the top-ranked Great Falls Americans won their best-of-three series over the fourth-seeded Billings Bulls in two games while the second-ranked Helena squad needed to play all three games to settle their matchup with the Gillette Wild, who finished the season in fourth place.
Now, Great Falls and Helena renew their rivalry in the best-of-three NA3HL Frontier Finals for the right to represent the Frontier Division in the NA3HL Silver Cup Championship that will take place on March 19-22 in Geneva, Illinois.
Russia native Arseny Ivanov netted two goals to lift the Great Falls Americans to a 5-2 win over the visiting Helena Bighorns in Game 1 of the 2015 NA3HL Frontier Division Finals in Great Falls on Friday night. The first game of the best-of-three series was attended by 685 spectators at the Great Falls Ice Plex watching the rivalry.
The Americans got off to a fast start and scored within the first minute of the opening period against the Bighorns. Josh Larson found an open Arseny Ivanov to put the home team on top 1-0. The Bighorns offense started to get things going. Minnesota native Cody Vanthournout tied the game for Helena off a pass from Johnny Bonta via Havre native Brandt Miller at the 7:54 mark. Helena’s Brian Skillicorn made sure that the Bighorns would get the lead before the first intermission with his unassisted score with 36 seconds on the clock. Great Falls held on to a slim 17-13 advantage in the shots-on-goal category and both teams finished the first twenty minutes going 0-for-3 on power play chances.
Great Falls tied the contest (2-2) thanks to Cody Page’s pass to Josh Larson for the Americans first successful power play score. Page and Lucas Lomax each picked up their first assists of the evening 2:32 into the second stanza. The goal by Great Falls was the lone score of the middle period.
Great Falls reclaimed the lead in the final period for the first time since they led 1-0 in the first 55 seconds of the NA3HL game. Lucas Lomax secured his first power play goal with help from teammates Josh Larson and Lucas Stover during the first three minutes to give the Americans a 3-2 advantage. Great Falls took advantage of the Helena defense and added two more tallies a few minutes later to lift the home team to a three score lead (5-2). Arseny Ivanov netted his second goal with over 13 minutes left in regulation. Great Falls native Tanner Dodd accumulated the final points for coach Jeff Heimel’s squad exactly a minute after Ivanov’s score. Hunter Garris and Austin Krantz assisted on the Ivanov points while Dodd’s was from Robert Kalata and Great Falls native Dylan Garton.
After Great Falls built a 29-25 shots-on-goal lead after the second period, both NA3HL squads finished with 41 shots apiece.
Great Falls and Helena each incurred seven minor penalties for 14 minutes of total penalty time.
Despite allowing six power play chances, the Americans did not allow any points to come from them. Helena allowed two Great Falls power play goals to get by Helena goaltender Grant Martens including Josh Larson’s lone goal in the second and Lucas Lomax’s goal in the third period.
Arseny Ivanov led the Great Falls offensive attack by netting two goals and Josh Larson picked up two assists in the win for the home team. Cody Vanthournout and Brian Skillicorn each racked up points for the Helena franchise while Johnny Bonta and Brandt Miller received assists.
Americans goaltender Jordan Moran had a great game and stopped 39 of the 41 shots that the Helena offense created. Despite the loss, Grant Martens finished with 36 saves for the Bighorns.
NEXT CONTEST: The second game of the NA3HL Frontier Finals will take place at the Helena Ice Arena with Helena and Great Falls squaring off on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 7:35PM. Great Falls will play host to the third game (if necessary) on Sunday, March 15th at 7:00PM at the Great Falls Ice Plex if Helena picks up the win on Saturday night.
|Period 1||Period 2||Period 3||Final|
First Period – 1, Great Falls, Arseny Ivanov (Josh Larson), 0:55. 2, Helena, Cody Vanthournout (Johnny Bonta, Brandt Miller), 12:06. 3, Helena, Brian Skillicorn (unassisted), 19:24.
Second Period – 4, Great Falls, Josh Larson (power play) (Cody Page, Lucas Lomax), 2:32.
Third Period – 5, Great Falls, Lucas Lomax (power play) (Josh Larson, Lucas Stover), 2:51. 6, Great Falls, Arseny Ivanov (Hunter Garris, Austin Krantz), 6:42. 7, Great Falls, Tanner Dodd (Robert Kalata, Dylan Garton), 7:42.
Shots on Goal – Great Falls 41, Helena 41.
Power-play Opportunities – Great Falls 2-for-6, Helena 0-for-6.
Attendance – 685
Additional Media Coverage: March 13, 2015: Great Falls Tribune: Junior A Hockey: Americans Open Championship Series
Additional Media Coverage: March 14, 2015: Great Falls Tribune: Americans start off with 5-2 win in playoff series against Helena