By Kevin Scott
GREAT FALLS, Mont., March 5, 2015 — The 2014-15 NA3HL season concluded last week for all teams. Some teams had great records and won lots of games and are still playing hockey in March and some had their seasons come to a close until next September.
Great Falls, Billings, Gillette and Helena are among those teams that are still in the hunt for a trophy in the playoffs. These teams along with Bozeman, Glacier and Yellowstone formed the Frontier Division this year in their new league, the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) after being in the American West Hockey League (AWHL) for many years.
The Great Falls Americans (35-10-3) and the Billings Bulls (25-17-6) are battling it out on the ice in the Frontier Division’s best-of-three Semifinals that began tonight in Great Falls. The winner moves on to the Frontier Division Finals against either the Helena Bighorns or the Gillette Wild, who are playing in the other semifinal matchup.
Great Falls has won half of their eight regular season meetings this year (4-3-1) against the Billings squad. Billings edged the Americans 2-1 on Sunday in the final regular season game. The Americans offense has rang up 22 goals against the Bulls and has allowed 18 this season.
Top-ranked Great Falls posted a 5-4 win over the fourth-seeded Billings Bulls in Game 1 of the NA3HL Frontier Division Semi-Finals hosted by the Americans at the Great Falls Ice Plex on Thursday night. Arizona native Lucas Lomax recorded four of the five goals for a hat trick for Great Falls.
Both teams battled it out during the first period but neither team was able to put any points on the scoreboard despite Great Falls piling up 26 shots and limited Billings to just three after twenty minutes of action.
It was a busy second period with five combined goals scored. The Americans offense struck first during the first 81 seconds. Josh Larson and Cody Page assisted on the score by Lucas Lomax. Lomax, who turns 21 on Friday (March 6th), picked up his 31st score of the season. Ian Wiljanen tied up the contest for the Bulls seven minutes later off a pass from Billings native Tristan Henrichs and South Dakota native Bryce Jensen. Torin Foundos gave Billings the lead for the first time with 7:17 left in the period with help from Sidney, Montana native Austin Lange and Ralfs Karelis. Lucas Lomax tacked on his second goal in the period to tie the contest up at 2-2. Cody Page and Josh Larson each picked up their second assists of the evening. Kenai, Alaska native Zack Mese gave the Americans a slim 3-2 advantage with his goal before the second intermission. Arseny Ivanov and Great Falls native Connor Barta each assisted for Jeff Heimel’s squad to close out the second stanza.
During the final period of action, Chad Stucker, a Billings native, scored to even up the game (3-3) on a successful power play opportunity with assistance from Cameron Birklid and Josh Neumann. The Bulls reclaimed the lead 14 seconds after the Stucker score as Sawyer Scanlan found the back of the net thanks to Billings goaltender Cole Semchak and Ian Wiljanen with 16:27 on the clock. Lucas Lomax picked up a hat trick with his third goal of the game off the stick of teammate Robert Kalata a few minutes later. Lucas Lomax chipped in his fourth goal of the game that proved to be the game-winner with five minutes remaining in the last period.
Great Falls more than doubled their shots against the Billings club (59-25) in the first game of their playoff series.
There were only five minor penalties that occurred in this game resulting in ten minutes of total penalty time.
Chad Stucker converted the only power play of the contest for the visiting team that happened in the third period to make the score 3-3.
In addition to Lomax’s four goals, Great Falls received help from Josh Larson and Cody Page, who contributed three assists while Arseny Ivanov had two. Forward Ian Wiljanen led the way for Billings with one goal and one assist.
Lauren Massie got the start for the Americans and swatted away 13 of the 17 shots that the Billings offense sent his way. His teammate, Jordan Moran also saw action and finished with eight saves. Meanwhile, Cole Semchak added 54 saves but did allow five goals to be scored by the home team.
In the other NA3HL Semi-Finals, second-ranked Helena Bighorns went on to defeat the third-ranked Gillette Wild 4-1 in Game One of their best-of-three NA3HL Semi-Finals on Wednesday night in Wyoming to take a 1-0 lead in their series. Game Two is set for Friday night in Helena at 7:00PM.
NEXT CONTEST: The Great Falls Americans and Billings Bulls face each other in Game Two of the NA3HL Frontier Division Semi-Finals best-of-three series at the Centennial Ice Arena in Billings on Friday, March 6, 2015 at 7:30PM. If Great Falls wins, they will advance to the Frontier Division Finals. A Billings win would send the series back to Great Falls for a 7:00PM decisive third game on Sunday, March 8th.
|Period 1||Period 2||Period 3||Final|
First Period – NO SCORING
Second Period – 1, Great Falls, Lucas Lomax (Josh Larson, Cody Page), 1:21. 2, Billings, Ian Wiljanen (Bryce Jensen, Tristan Henrichs), 8:24. 3, Billings, Torin Foundos (Ralfs Karelis, Austin Lange), 12:43. 4, Great Falls, Lucas Lomax (Cody Page, Josh Larson), 15:18. 5, Great Falls, Zack Mese (Arseny Ivanov, Connor Barta), 17:08.
Third Period – 6, Billings, Chad Stucker (power play) (Cameron Birklid, Josh Neumann), 3:19. 7, Billings, Sawyer Scanlan (Ian Wiljanen, Cole Semchak), 3:33. 8, Great Falls, Lucas Lomax (Robert Kalata, Arseny Ivanov), 6:12. 9, Great Falls, Lucas Lomax (Josh Larson, Cody Page), 14:46.
Shots on Goal – Great Falls 59, Billings 25.
Power-play Opportunities – Great Falls 0-for-1, Billings 1-for-2.
Attendance – 240
Additional Media Coverage: March 3, 2015: ABC/FOX Montana (KFBB): Americans Preparing for Thursday’s Playoff Opener against Billings
Additional Media Coverage: March 5, 2015: Great Falls Tribune: Great Falls Americans begin playoffs Thursday night at IcePlex
Additional Media Coverage: March 6, 2015: Great Falls Tribune: Americans top Bulls in Game 1