48 in 24 Series: Great Falls Americans
August 18, 2016
The 48 in 24 series will feature an in-depth look into all 48 teams in the NA3HL for the 2016-17 season, with new teams being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 48 in 24 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 48 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2016-17 season, including taking a look at their potential roster and their strengths as a team for the upcoming season. It will also take a look back on the 2015-16 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 48 in 24 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Great Falls Americans
2015-16 Record: 34-11-2, 70 pts. (2nd in the Frontier Division)
2015-16 Playoffs: Won the Frontier Division title, lost in the Silver Cup Semi-Finals to the Metro Jets
Head Coach: Jeff Heimel
2016-17 Division: Frontier
The Great Falls Americans are a team backed by a deep history in junior hockey. They started out in the Western Hockey League in 1980 and competed as the Edmonton Oil Kings. They’ve since moved from league to league finally landing in the American Frontier Hockey League as the Great Falls Americans. The team was part of the AWHL merger in 2014 and is now part of the Frontier League.
The Americans are coming off a powerful season where they made it all the way to the Silver Cup Semi-Finals, dropping a close 5-4 contest to eventual runner-up Metro Jets. They are looking to build off that momentum and head coach Jeff Heimel is looking to go all the way this year.
“We want a league championship,” Heimel said. “Anything less would be a disappointment.”
Heimel will be starting his fifth season with the Americans but has a long history with the sport. He played the game in high school and college and has coached for other teams. His playing career has helped build the way he coaches his players.
“I think I had a lot of great coaches, which shapes you,” Heimel said. “Those guys are in the trenches with you so that’s important. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from those great coaches.”
Every coach in the league will have to get used to a new playing structure this year which the switch to a 48 team, eight-division league. Heimel isn’t concerned about the change and thinks it’ll make for a better game.
“I think it’ll make for a great Silver Cup Tournament,” Heimel said. “It’s showing a different style of hockey across the league and adding a new depth to the league.”
Looking forward into the season, Heimel is focused on the strong players he already has within the team and hopes they will be the backbone of another successful season.
“Year to year, the veteran presence is always important,” Heimel said. “We have a decent amount of guys returning. We will have great leadership and beyond that it’s about staying focused on the week to week efforts.”
The Americans had three college commitments this summer. Defenseman Conner Barta committed to Aquinas College with the ACHA. Defenseman Miles Giorgione committed to Marian University with the NCAA as did goalie Jake Stephan who committed with Concordia College. Heimel says they put a lot of the responsibility in the players hands when it’s comes to advancing to the next round.
“Having kids with good grades and good character is the first step,” Heimel said. “Holding the players accountable and helping them market themselves is a big pat of what we teach.”
Along with their rich history in hockey, the Americans have a long history of giving back to their community in Great Falls, MT. Their players help by working with local schools and local kids and by running food drives every year. The community relationship is deep and important since the team has been there for decades.
“We have a really good community and a lot of support,” Heimel said. “We want to stay as proactive as possible. It’s always nice to get out there and give back.
Next up in the 48 in 24 series: Helena Bighorns