By Kevin Scott
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GREAT FALLS, Mont., March 11, 2016 — The final weekend of the regular season comes down to this.
The second-ranked Great Falls Americans (34-10-2) faced the top seed in the Frontier Division, the Yellowstone Quake (34-9-3) at the Great Falls Ice Plex for a battle on the ice on Friday and Saturday night.
Yellowstone is a team that Great Falls has struggled with throughout their six previous meetings. After winning their first two games back in September, Great Falls has gone 0-4 against the Wyoming club.
Great Falls has won seven straight games since February 4th including three on home ice. Meanwhile, Yellowstone is 9-1 since February 5th. Great Falls trails the Wyoming club by 3 points going into the final weekend of play before the playoffs begin.
The only thing that is known is that both teams are playoff bound but for the Americans to take the top seed, they would need to win twice including tonight’s game. A split would be mean, the Montana squad would finish as a runner-up and a date with Bozeman in the Frontier Divisional semifinals that start next week.
Who would come out on top in the first of two weekend games?
Kyle Johnson scored one goal and dished out two assists and goaltender Jake Stephan finished with 28 saves to help the second-ranked Great Falls Americans to a 6-4 victory against the Yellowstone Quake on Friday night in Great Falls.
Great Falls took control of the opening period as they outscored Yellowstone 2-1. Kyle Johnson and Tegan Harrington each found a way to get the puck into the net during the first twenty minutes. Reed Link provided the assists on Kyle Johnson’s goal eight minutes into the NA3HL contest. Johnson then picked up the first of two assists via Harrington’s points and teammate Tyler Garcia added one. Before Harrington’s goal, Yellowstone’s Tony Dahlberg tied up the contest at 1-1 off a pass from Will Landsverk. The host team dominated the shots-on-goal category, 22-10.
After the first intermission, the game went back and forth. Nick Greene made the score 2-2 off the stick of teammate Max Doner 82 seconds into the period for the Quake. Four minutes later, the Americans regained the lead (3-2) thanks to a Brendan Jester score. Stevan Goran and Austin Krantz helped set up the third points for coach Jeff Heimel’s squad. Tony Dahlberg accumulated his first assist after securing a goal in the first period when he found Mason Stewart, who registered his first goal to tie it at 3-3. The score remained that way until the final 2:31 when Arseny Ivanov and Stevan Goran each netted a goal to increase the Americans lead to 5-3. Miles Giorgione recorded his first assist while Johnson added his second on Goran’s power play goal.
The second-ranked Americans were able to hold onto the lead in the final period of regulation. Josh Larson took advantage of a penalty by the Quake and scored on a short-handed scoring drive with assistance from Tegan Harrington. Mike McCullen pulled the Wyoming team to within two goals (6-4) midway through the final period but the Americans defense prevented any more pucks to get by goaltender Jake Stephan. Cosimo Yapello and Nick Pizzey were each credited with the assists.
The NA3HL game saw just seven penalties with four of them coming in the last stanza.
Yellowstone could not connect on any of their four power play chances while Great Falls went 1-for-3.
Kyle Johnson, a forward from Eagle River, Alaska, paced Great Falls with a goal and two assists. Tegan Harrington scored once and dished out one assist in the win. Yellowstone was led by Tony Dahlberg who chipped in one goal and an assist.
Goaltender Jake Stephan added another win to his first season as a member of Great Falls Americans as the Wisconsin native made 28 saves on 32 shots. Garret Matz recorded 43 saves for the Quake.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans end their regular season against Yellowstone on Saturday, March 12th. The game at the Great Falls Ice Plex starts at 7:30PM. During the finale, the Great Falls Americans are teaming up with the Great Falls Association of Realtors for a fundraiser to support the flag at Overlook Park in Great Falls. For more information, please click here.
Additional Media Coverage: March 11, 2016: Great Falls Tribune: Americans hockey on verge of league championship