By Alex Dodd, RCJ Sports Reporter

March 2, 2022

The Great Falls Americans stormed out of the gate and rolled the Badlands Sabres in Game 1 in the first round of the Fraser Cup Playoffs on Wednesday at Roosevelt Park Ice Arena.

Great Falls outshot the Sabres 41-30 on its way to a 7-1 win away from home to take the first meeting of a best-of-three series. The Sabres need to win two on the road on Saturday and Sunday in Montana to extend their inaugural season.

“We just did not come ready to play,” head coach Brendon Hodge said. “The effort level just wasn’t there.”

The Americans scored their first goal at 1:09 in the opening period when Henry Fusco scooped the puck past Sabres goalie Maxim Currie to give them a 1-0 lead. Great Falls backed it up with two more and took a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Badlands was outshot 17-7 in the first frame, but Hodge took more issue with the officiating.

“It’s been very questionable all year long and it really showed its ugly face tonight with the refereeing,” he said. “I tip my hat to Great Falls for coming with a great game plan, but when you get that many power plays you spend a lot of time just killing penalties.”

Great Falls sent four players to the box for four minutes and the Sabres finished 0-for-4 on power-play opportunities.

The Americans scored two goals on eight Badlands penalties. The Sabres sent 10 players to the penalty box for a total of 36 minutes, including a pair of 10 minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the third period.

“I think a lot of it was frustration with the officiating,” Hodge said. “I think it’s a point where there is a black mark on the league. It’s going to get to a point where our players’ safety is in jeopardy, and that’s not the way it should be.”

Jace Thompson led the way for the Americans with two goals. He scored his first goal in the second period to give his team a 5-0 advantage and added a power-play marker at 2:23 to put Great Falls up 6-1.

Americans goalie Will Simpson notched a win with 28 saves on 30 shots. Sabres’ goalie Maxim Currie took the loss with 27 saves on 32 shots.

Zach Vockler proved a bright spot for Badlands with two goals in the third period.

In the first period, the Americans took advantage of the Sabres’ slow start when Henry Fusco quickly gave his team a 1-0 advantage at 1:09 when he took an assist from Thomas Dalsin and Blake Nerney and put it over Currie.

Great Falls added insurance at 7:24 on another top-shelf goal off the stick of Hunter Maschke with assists from Daniel Crutcher and Garrett Weisenburger to give it a 2-0 advantage. The Americans added another goal at 17:53 when Nereny slid the puck into the net to give them a 3-0 advantage at the first intermission.

Great Falls wasted no time in the second period with a goal by Tommy Gazich on assists from Rily Opperrude and J.J. Martin at 20 seconds on a lingering power play. It added another from Thompson at 15:49 on assists from Crutcher and Petr van Voorhis to claim a 5-0 lead after two periods.

In the third period, Vockler scored on assists from Reid Murray and Hunter Fischbach to give the Sabres life at 34 seconds, but Great Falls scored on a power play at 2:23 to push its lead to 6-1 and added another goal at 7:46 to extend its lead to 7-1.

Vockler added his second goal at 15:14, when the Sabres were shorthanded, to cut the Sabres’ deficit to 7-2, but it proved too little and too late.

“We just have to come out with effort,” Hodge said. “We need to realize our lives are on the line. Our hockey season is on the line on Saturday and you can’t slice it any other way. We have to be ready or our season is done.”

The two teams return to the ice at 8 p.m. Saturday at Great Falls Ice Plex in an elimination game for the Sabres in Great Falls, Montana.

Story Courtesy: Rapid City Journal: Sabres shelled by Great Falls in first playoff game (March 2, 2022)