GREAT FALLS — The Great Falls Americans junior hockey team was one win away from advancing to the Frontier Division finals last March before the season got cut short.
Fast forward to this March, it’s playoff time again, and the players have been itching to get back.
"Very eager. All of the returning squad from last year, that's all we've been looking for for the whole year," forward Jake Hayes said. "Especially with it getting cut off short last year, that was really hard, so coming in this year helps a lot."
Much like 2020, the Americans once again finished the regular season playing stellar hockey, winning nine of their last 10 games and finishing second in the Frontier Division standings with a 27-11-2-0 record. COVID created some hurdles earlier in the year, but the team feels much better about a playoff run these days.
"Things are starting to loosen up around here and we get to play every day," head coach Greg Sears said. "It's made the mood so good around here that we're just kind of excited to be at this point. I would have never guessed we'd get 40 games in, so it's kind of a victory for everybody."
In the the best-of-three first round, the Americans will face the third-ranked Gillette (Wyo.) Wild, a team they’re more than familiar with.
"We're going to have to be physical and use our speed. I think it will be alright if we stay out of the penalty box, and it's going to be a good series," Sears said. "We're pretty much playing ourselves. It's two similar styles and there's a lot of travel involved, so it's going to be interesting week."
Game One is on Thursday, April 1 in Gillette, while Great Falls will host Game Two on April 2 and the if-necessary Game Three on April 3.