By Kevin Scott
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BLAINE, Minn., December 16, 2016 — After winning back-to-back division championships in the Frontier Division during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season, the Great Falls Americans have won quite a few games —seventeen to be exact—this season during the first 24 contests.
Great Falls (17-3-2-2), is currently in second place in the division behind the Yellowstone Quake (Cody, WY) (22-1-0-1) as the 2016 NA3HL Showcase hockey tournament gets underway at the Schwan Super Rink in Minnesota. Last Saturday, the Americans had their seven-game winning streak snapped when they lost to the Helena Bighorns 3-2 in overtime.
Great Falls served as the home team for Friday afternoon’s contest against the top team in the Coastal Division of the NA3HL, the Long Beach Sharks (NY). The Sharks have won 23 of their 40 games this season and are led by the top two scorers in the league. Latvia native Martins Vitolins leads the league in points scored with 38 goals along with his 75 assists (113 points) followed closely by his teammate, Oskar Lindberg from Sweden, who has tallied 36 goals and dished out 70 assists (106 points).
The Americans, under coach Jeff Heimel, are led by Tanner Congdon’s 20 goals and Danny O’Donnell’s 25 assists. Goaltender Nick Nast continues to stop plenty of shots and has 351 saves to produce an 9-2-0-1 record in 12 appearances.
The prestigious three-day tournament includes many college and junior scouts that are in attendance to watch the league’s best talent. The three games that each team appears in does count toward their season standings as Great Falls is the home team for two of those three including tonight’s game and Saturday afternoon’s contest against the New Jersey-based Jersey Shore Wildcats.
During the 2015 NA3HL Showcase Tournament, the Americans went 1-2 including a 7-0 shutout win against the Euless (TX) Jr. Stars followed by consecutive 3-2 loss to the Toledo (OH) Cherokee and a team from the East made up of NA3EHL stars. This season, the NA3EHL has merged into the NA3HL.
Tegan Harrington’s hat trick helped the Great Falls Americans earn a 6-4 upset victory over the Long Beach Shark during the first day of action at the 2016 NA3HL Showcase Tournament taking place in Blaine, Minnesota on Friday afternoon.
The American 17th win of the season came against one of the top NA3HL junior hockey teams in the country. The Long Beach Sharks (23-6-0-1) lost their seventh game despite out-shooting the Great Falls squad, 18-17.
Harrington, a forward from Wasilla, Alaska, scored the first of his three goals early in the opening period. Forward Mitchell Ramstad picked up his eighth assist when he found Harrington for the score 4:37 in the contest. The lead would quickly disappear for the Americans as Long Beach rattled off two more goals before the first intermission and tacked on another to start the second period. Martins Vitolins chipped in his 38th goal off the stick of Carmine Taffo followed by Ricky Regala’s score to give the sharks a 2-1 advantage after the first twenty minutes of action. Oskar Lindberg and Martins Vitolins assisted on the tally picking up 69 and 74 assists, respectively. Great Falls had 7 of the 15 total shots in the period.
The Sharks wasted no time adding to their lead (10 seconds) in the middle period. Oskar Lindberg and Martins Vitolins each assisted their second assist of the night when they set up Carmine Taffo for the goal over Americans goaltender Nick Nast. Coach Jeff Heimel’s Americans squad fought back by scoring the next three goals to give them their second lead of the game (4-3). Brendan Jester, Matt Janke, and Dustin Truex had successful scoring drives during a nine-minute scoring span. Tegan Harrington, Malachi Bushey, Kody Thomas and Normunds Vibans added to their season assist totals. Trace Pederson tied the game up at 4-4 with two minutes left before the final period. Alec Rovitz and Keegan Brick gathered the assists.
The third period belonged to Harrington and the Americans on the scoreboard. Harrington scored twice with one goal coming early (31 seconds to be exact) in the period while his second happened during the final 95 seconds. Mitchell Ramstad registered his second assist while Danny O’Donnell added one more to his total of 25 on the year.
Both teams kept their shot attempts to a minimum. The Montana team took 8 of their 15 during a 3-goal second period. The Sharks had 18 shots but their offense failed to gather any points in the final 20 minutes.
The home team finished with 13 points (6 goals and 7 assists) while committing seven infractions resulting in 14 minutes of penalty time. The Sharks, who had 4 goals and 7 assists, accumulated five penalties for 10 minutes.
Nick Nast, the winning goaltender, stopped 14 of the 18 shots sent his way. Kyle Van Wagner also played the entire sixty minutes and recorded 14 saves in the loss for Long Beach.
In other action for the rest of the Frontier teams, the Northeast Generals needed one goal to escape with a 1-0 victory over the Missoula Jr. Bruins, the Maine Wild defeated the Helena Bighorns, 5-3, the Wooster Oilers easily defeated the Billings Bulls, 8-0, the Cape Cod Islanders sneaked past the Bozeman Ice Dogs (5-4), and the Glacier Nationals fell 5-2 to the Lockport Express. The Yellowstone Quake and the Gillette Wild each tasted victory.
NEXT CONTEST: Great Falls will tangle with the Jersey Shore (NJ) Wildcats on Saturday (December 17th) in day two of the NA3HL Showcase beginning at noon (MST) at the Schwan Super Rink in Minnesota. They will conclude the tournament on Sunday, December 18th when they face the Peoria (IL) Mustangs at 11:25AM (MST).
For more information about the tournament that will feature many college and junior scouts in attendance, please click here.
Story Courtesy: North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL): Competition, schedule balance highlight Day 1 of NA3HL Showcase (December 17, 2016)