KRTV: Athletes of the Week: Great Falls Americans hockey team
By Tom Wylie, Sports Director, KRTV
March 23, 2016
GREAT FALLS, MT — “Revenge is in the air.”
That’s how Great Falls Americans goalkeeper Jake Stephan described the mindset of the team entering this weekend’s NA3HL Frontier division championship series with the Yellowstone Quake.
Two weeks ago, the Americans had a chance to clinch a regular season title in their finale but watched it slip away in a 5-4 loss to the Quake – dropping Great Falls to second place in the division entering the playoffs.
And after both teams won their 1st round playoff series, it’s only fitting that the Americans get a shot at payback against the Quake.
“They’re a good hockey team,” said 4th year coach Jeff Heimel. “They have good forwards they’re well coached it’s one of those things where you have to bottle up their forwards a little bit and play well defensively and obviously in a playoff setting that’s all very important.”
For one Americans player, going through what could be the final week of practice is bittersweet. Great Falls native and CMR grad Connor Barta has spent 5 years with the junior club. His first season saw the Americans win only one game (1-47) in 2012. Jeff Heimel was hired in 2013 and turned the program into one of the most consistent in the country.
“It’s been special,” Barta said. “I went through three coaches my first season here and now it seems like we finish in the top two every single season. It’s been awesome.”
“You never know when you come into a program what kind of kids you’re going to get. We fell into some good local kids,” Heimel said. “Our captains the last two years have been Great Falls kids. Pretty awesome to have that kind of talent in your back yard.”
But this year’s team doesn’t like to reflect on how far the program has come. They’re more concerned with how much further they can go. A series win this weekend would clinch a Frontier title and punch the Americans’ ticket to the NA3HL tournament in Chicago.
“We’re all really happy that Yellowstone beat Gillette,” said leading scorer Tanner Congdon. “We want another crack at the Quake. We want to take them down and then go to Chicago.”