Photo: Courtesy of Laura Richesin
By Kevin Scott
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GREAT FALLS, Mont., November 23, 2019 — A night after having their ten-game winning streak snapped at the hand of the Sheridan (WY) Hawks (17-4-1), the Great Falls Americans (16-2-3) were looking to get revenge as they tried to get back to their winning ways on Saturday evening for their fourth overall showdown with the Wyoming junior hockey franchise.
Great Falls forced overtime against Sheridan on Friday at the Great Falls Ice Plex but fell 79 seconds into the extra frame for the 3-2 setback. The teams first met in early October 2019 in Wyoming with each team picking up a victory. The Hawks, an inaugural team in the North American 3 Hockey League this season, racked up six goals in a 6-1 win over Great Falls. Great Falls then downed Sheridan 4-0 the following night.
The Americans will try to begin a new win streak on Saturday with another meeting with the Hawks before they play their final five games before the 2019 NA3HL Showcase Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota on December 15-17th that features many college scouts in attendance. Four of their next five contests will be played on home ice with teams from Missoula (Junior Bruins) and Yellowstone (Quake) coming to town for a pair of games each weekend before a single road trip to Butte on December 13th. The NA3HL will be releasing their matchups and schedule for the prestigious tournament on Monday, November 25th at 1:00PM (CST) and will be posted on the Great Falls Americans website after the announcement.
Sheridan Hawks forward Logan Syrup provided the game-winning goal as the Sheridan Hawks outlasted the Great Falls Americans in overtime, 5-4 with the win setting up a tie with the Americans for second place in the Frontier Division standings in the NA3HL on Saturday night in Great Falls. The Park River, North Dakota native also had two assists. The 780 spectators watching the teams had to watch the home team fall in overtime for the second consecutive night.
Justin Schwartzmiller got the Hawks on the scoreboard in the first period as he drove from the corner and fired a successful shot by Great Falls goaltender Trever Mellen at the 9:16 mark. Schwartzmiller, in the top two in the NA3HL in points scored, added his 34th goal in 21 appearances and was assisted by North Dakota’s Logan Syrup, who received his 35th assist while the Americans were in the penalty box. Each squad had three two-minute minor penalties to open the second game of their two-game series. A total of 25 shots were taken with one goal scored before the first intermission.
In the second period, the Hawks jumped out to a 2-0 advantage when Alex Kesler chipped in his 17th assist when he got the puck to an open Steven Delikat who tallied his eighth goal. A few minutes later, Great Falls cut the deficit to 2-1. The first goal of the night for the home team went to Kellen Harris. The Alaska forward registered his fifth goal off the pass from Brody Boyce and Henry Chavez on the power play. The final 14 minutes was filled with many shot attempts but none that were successful as the middle period concluded. The host team accumulated 19 of their 31 shots in the middle period as the first forty minutes of action ended.
Sheridan extended their lead to 3-1 in the first two minutes of the third period. Blake Billings secured the third goal of the night for coach Andy Scheib’s young squad. Logan Syrup and Kolten Wright each garnered the assists while the host team was down a man. Moments later, the Americans made it a one-score game (3-2) when Kellen Harris lit up the lamp for the second time with helpers from Bryson Fletcher and Harley Nyhuis. The crowd at the Great Falls Ice Plex erupted with applause as the Americans scored two goals in a 58-second span to lead for the first time in the weekend series. Jake Hayes and Harley Nyhuis were each credited with the goals. Hayes’ score went unassisted with 8:43 remaining while Nyhuis’ score was assisted by Logan Rachow and Blake Nerney. The 4-3 lead wouldn’t last as the Hawks evened the score at 4-4. Sheridan standout Justin Schwartzmiller racked up his second goal in three periods as Kolten Wright and Alex Kesler assisted on the game-tying score with 5:05 remaining. Sheridan capitalized on their third power play score. Neither squad was able to find the back of the net the rest of the way, so a sudden death overtime period was needed to decide who claims second place in the NA3HL’s Frontier Division.
Logan Syrup netted his 11th goal of the season 2:21 into the extra five-minute session as Blake Billings and Kolten Wright set up the winning scoring drive that helped the Hawks share second place in the division. Wright had three assists for Wyoming.
The teams each acquired seven power plays with the Hawks taking advantage on three attempts for scores. Great Falls went 1-for-7. Justin Schwartzmiller had two and Blake Billings had the other for the visiting team. The first of Kellen Harris’ two goals was made with Sheridan in the sin bin. The two-hour and 22-minute contest saw 17 total infractions with 34 minutes of penalty time being handed out.
Netminder Luke Fundator, playing in his first year with Sheridan, went 2-0 with back-to-back wins in the weekend series on the road against Great Falls. The Nevada product finished with 49 saves and allowed four total goals in the second and third periods. Great Falls goaltender Trever Mellen, who added 32 saves to his resume, is now 5-1-2 in nine appearances. His first overtime loss this season came on October 12th in a 4-3 defeat to the Helena Bighorns.
NOTE: Great Falls is now 1-1-2 against Sheridan after their second consecutive overtime loss to the Wyoming NA3HL club. It has been one year (2018-19 season) since the Great Falls Americans have suffered back-to-back losses in the regular season. On November 24, 2018, the Gillette Wild handed the Americans a 4-1 loss and the following weekend (November 30th), the Helena Bighorns defeated Great Falls 5-4 in an overtime thriller. Both games took place at the Great Falls Ice Plex.
NEXT CONTEST: The Missoula Junior Bruins will invade the Great Falls Ice Plex for two games next weekend (November 29-30) as they challenge the Great Falls Americans. The puck will drop nightly at 7:30PM (MST). As usual, HockeyTV will live stream the league games for fans who can’t make it to Great Falls.