By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
April 13, 2016
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Great Falls Americans head coach Jeff Heimel has signed a two-year contract with the Tier III Junior A hockey program, owner Jim Keough said Tuesday.
“We’re really excited about that because anytime you get a good coach like that, you want to hang on to him,” Keough said. “It’s obvious that he’s one of the best young coaches in the country.”
Heimel, a Saint Paul, Minn., native, recently concluded his fourth season in Great Falls.
“Excited,” Heimel said. “I’ve been here long enough that if I didn’t like it here, I certainly wouldn’t have extended my contract (laughs). There’s a lot of familiarity here in Great Falls. We’ve done such a great job building up a program that’s been successful.
“I don’t know why I’d want to make a move unless it was something clearly a step up level wise. I just think we have good ownership; we just have a lot of good things that obviously matter at this level. Pretty excited.”
Said Keough: “His contract was up and we did some negotiation. He wants a national trophy. We’re almost there. We’re getting there.”
Coaching his squad to a 41-13-2 record this past season and a semifinal appearance in the North American 3 Hockey League’s Silver Cup Tournament, Heimel has resuscitated the organization, an organization that won one game five seasons ago.
“It’s hard to put into words because we were one of the worst teams in the country,” Keough said. “And now, where we ended up, it’s just a tremendous turnaround, and it’s almost all Jeff. He’s done a tremendous job recruiting, building good character out of these young men.”
The Americans have won back-to-back Frontier Division titles, made the trip to the Silver Cup in consecutive years and compiled a record of 133-68-11 in the past four seasons – all under the direction of Jeff Heimel, who alongside his wife, Megan, and two young sons, Christian and Preston, have grown to call Great Falls home.
“What a blessing he is to us,” Keough said.
Before the American West Hockey League merged with the NA3HL in 2014, Heimel was named the AWHL’s Coach of the Year for the 2013-14 season, and in his first season the Americans were chosen as the AWHL’s Organization of the Year for their impressive turnaround, winning 16 games after that one-win campaign.
The head coach’s next goal, a goal that helped in extending his stay two more years in Great Falls: win the Silver Cup in Chicago.
“Getting as close as we did, being right there, it was definitely on my mind in extending the contract,” Heimel said. “You can probably drive yourself crazy thinking about what if and this and that, but I feel like before I would ever make a decision to go anywhere else, I feel like I’d want to win a championship. I think it’s important. The city of Great Falls has put a lot of effort into this team and supported this team well.”
Seven players will not return to the Americans next season because their eligibility has been exhausted, and perhaps more will continue their hockey careers elsewhere.
Still, Heimel expects to have a talented bunch.
“It’s kind of one of those things where the goal’s always been to move players, but there are enough guys that have been here and we’re going to get a decent number of returners back,” Heimel said. “Wherever guys end up, whether it’s at a higher level or here, I know we’ll have enough guys that understand what we went through and what the goal is and kind of have an itch to get back there and win.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Heimel signs two year deal with Great Falls Americans (April 13, 2016)