By Tom Robinson, USA Hockey Writer
October 29, 2015
Working with the North American Hockey League’s Kenai River Brown Bears has had its benefits for the North American 3 Hockey League’s Great Falls Americans.
Last season, after Americans star goalie Evan Hauser started 14-0, he moved up to Kenai River and continued to thrive. In August, he committed to play for the University of Alaska Anchorage, thus becoming the first Great Falls player to sign with an NCAA Division I team.
Great Falls coach and general manager Jeff Heimel has also reversed that trip. Building a connection through yearly trips to Brown Bears camps, Heimel has brought players from Alaska to Great Falls, Mont., to help construct one of the NA3HL’s top teams.
“You’re starting to see the three- or four-year product of getting to know people up there,” Heimel said. “We’ve had kids on the team every year, and that number has increased every single year.
“I think they see we take care of our players and do a good job. I think that’s the biggest thing. You can get into any market if you take are of players.”
The connection appears to be paying off.
Great Falls is again on top of the Frontier Division. With a 9-2 start in which they have allowed just 19 goals, the Americans have the league’s fourth-best record and have allowed the second-fewest goals.
Players from Alaska take up 12 of the 25 spots on the Americans roster.
“Alaska has been a nice little niche for us,” Heimel said. “It’s a nice trip every year. You have about 22 hours of light each day that we’re up there during recruiting time.”
The Alaskans who have accepted Heimel’s offer to play in Montana have combined to make major contributions.
No. 1 goalie Lauren Massie is one of four players from Wasilla, joining forwards Adam Apangalook, Tegan Harrington and Colton Fletcher. Massie stepped in after Hauser’s promotion last season and had a 2.14 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 26 games.
“He had the benefit of coming in behind [Hauser], who just worked extremely hard and was given nothing his entire life,” Heimel said. “He really benefitted from that and, after Hauser moved up, he saw a lot more game action.”
This season, Massie’s numbers have been even better. He has five wins in six starts, and he made 42 saves in his only loss, a 2-1 defeat against the Yellowstone Quake. The 18-year-old’s .944 save percentage is tied for second-best in the league and his 1.49 GAA ranks third.
Apangalook, Harrington and Fletcher have combined for 23 points in 11 games.
The contingent from Anchorage, led by team scoring leader Brendan Jester, is even larger. Jester has eight goals and seven assists to already surpass his scoring total from 30 games with the team last season.
“He was a kid who was always in the right spots last year,” Heimel said. “He just wasn’t burying it in those right spots.
“It’s like something has clicked.”
Defenseman Miles Giorgione is tied for second on the team at plus-15. Tanner Congdon is averaging more than a point per game.
Brothers Josh and Matt Larson are enjoying playing on the same team for the first time ever. Josh is approaching his 20th birthday while Matt was 16 this summer. The 3 ½-year gap has kept them separated on the ice until now.
Defenseman Hunter Garris has not played yet.
The other two Alaska players are goalie Kevin Hale from Palmer and defenseman Jesse Johnson from Eagle River. Hale stopped 23 of 24 shots in his only start.
Story Courtesy: USA Hockey (October 29, 2015)