By Kevin Scott
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GREAT FALLS, Mont., February 24, 2017 — This season, the Great Falls Americans (36-3-2-3) and the Billings Bulls (5-38-0-1) have met just three times with two of those meetings taking place at the Great Falls Ice Plex.
Great Falls, who has already clinched a playoff berth next month in the six-team Frontier Division playoffs, came out victorious in all three games by out-scoring the Bulls 32-3 including a 11-0 shutout win at the end of January.
Billings, who will finish out their season next week, did not qualify this season for postseason play. Forward Gage Thompson, from Valley City, North Dakota, leads the team in both goals scored and assists (9 goals, 25 assists) for active members of the Billings NA3HL squad. Goaltender Simo Huhtanen, an Ohio native, was credited with all three wins. He has a record of 3-19-0-0-1 and currently has 950 saves.
The Americans, who will host the Bozeman Ice Dogs on Saturday night in their last regular season home appearance before the playoffs, are led by Tanner Congdon with 41 goals and 37 assists while Danny O’Donnell has dished out a team-high 44 assists. Goaltender Nick Nast and Kyler Ayers continue to play at a high level in the net. Nast, who was selected to play at the Top Prospects Tournament on Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 27-28), has 700 saves to go along with a record of 19-2-0-1-1. Kyler Ayers, has won 14 of the 20 games with the six losses coming in a shootout.
Great Falls hopes to maintain their winning ways with the regular season winding down. Their remaining games are against the Bozeman (Ice Dogs) and a pair of games against the top team in the Frontier Division, the Yellowstone Quake during the first week of March.
Brendan Jester scored three goals and Dustin Truex and Tanner Congdon had two goals apiece to lead the Great Falls Americans to a 12-1 blowout win over the Billings Bulls on Friday night at the Centennial Ice Arena in Billings, Montana. The Americans team secured their 36th win in 44 games.
Great Falls raced out to 4-0 lead in the first period with a pair of goals by Dustin Truex and one each by Ricards Bernhards and Tanner Congdon. The two goals by Truex went unassisted while Bernhards’ score was set up by Matt Janke and Congdon’s score came from Americans assist leader Danny O’Donnell and Payton McSharry. The Americans scored took 26 shots and finished the stanza by blanking the Bulls on the scoreboard during the first twenty minutes of action from Billings. The Bulls attempted just five shots and had the only penalty of the period.
The Great Falls offense continued to produce six more goals throughout the middle period. Veteran Brendan Jester scored three of the Americans first four goals of the period during the first three minutes. In addition to Jester’s hat trick, Payton McSharry, Malachi Bushey and Tanner Congdon all got the puck between the pipes. Congdon’s second score of the contest came with assistance from defenseman Danny O’Donnell to cap off the sixth goal (and 10th overall) before the second intermission. The power play scoring opportunity came with 70 seconds left. After creating 26 shots in the opening period, Great Falls accumulated 25 more and held the home team to seven in the second.
Three minutes into the final period, Boise, Idaho product Kody Thomas scored his sixth goal of the season off the Americans second power play of the night with Malachi Bushey and Jens Juliussen getting the assists. Billings would deny the Great Falls shutout when Gage Thompson and Tanner Knudson found teammate Duncan Cameron for this sixth goal of the year with 7:13 remaining in the contest. The visiting team would find the back of the net one more time when Mitchell Ramstad’s unassisted score came with 33 seconds on the clock.
Brendan Jester recorded three goals in the second period and had one assist to help the Americans pick up their 26th win including their 18th on the road. Dustin Truex and Tanner Congdon had two goals and three assists were each made by Danny O’Donnell and Tanner Congdon. Leading the way for the Bulls was Ontario native Duncan Cameron who scored his team’s only goal. Gage Thompson and Tanner Knudson gathered one assist apiece.
The final matchup of the season between these two squads contained just four infractions between them. Three of the four penalties came during the second period. Logan Parsley had the lone minor penalty for the Americans. The three penalties on Billings resulted in 24 minutes in the penalty box including one game misconduct.
Great Falls received a solid production from goaltender Kyler Ayers, who swatted away 21 of the 22 shots in 60 minutes of action. Billings net-minder Simo Huhtanen had a difficult time trying to stop the Americans offense as he allowed 12 goals and ended his night with 58 saves.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans play their final regular season contest at the Great Falls Ice Plex on Saturday, February 25th against the Bozeman Ice Dogs. The game begins at 7:30PM. On Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 26-27th), defenseman Danny O’Donnell, goaltender Nick Nast and forward Payton McSharry will be among the players playing at the 2017 Top Prospects Tournament in Michigan.