By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The Great Falls Americans' brilliant intensity on the hockey rink might be biting enough to melt the ice at the Havre Ice Dome.
Whether or not the ice melts, the amateur hockey game should prove to be exciting.
Will the players have all their teeth? Will there be bloodshed? Will the right wing shin-slash his opponent and pin him on the ice with his black and red hockey stick stopping the air short in his enemy's throat?
Whatever the rink play, whatever the outcome, the Americans, the second-ranked team in the America West Hockey League, will play the California Ventura Mariners on Thursday, Jan. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre Ice Dome, bringing with them a new sport look to Havre for an evening.
At the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, the home site of the Americans, the ice was melted in preparation of the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals, so the Americans were temporarily homeless.
The California Mariners were planning to play the Bozeman Ice Dogs and were looking for more games while in Montana and Havre came to the mind of the organizers.
"We had talked with Havre people before about their youth program," said Reid Pedersen, general manager of the Americans. "They were very interested and this was the perfect opportunity."
The Havre Ice Hawks, the mascot of the youth hockey programs in Havre, is comprised of six teams and one adult team.
The youth are appropriated to teams according to their age as of a June 31 deadline. Six children, ages six and under, are on the termites team. The mites, ages 6-8, squirts, ages 9-10, peewees, ages 11-12, bantams, ages 13-15, and midgets, the high school team, ages 15-18, comprise the teams. There is also a group of about 25 men who compete in the adult league.
"The youth program in Havre is growing and growing," Pedersen said. "This is something kind of fun. It is an opportunity for kids to see people who started where they are now, and to see where they can be."
The Americans, ages 17-20, are a junior A amateur team, not a minor league hockey team.
"A lot of young men use this program to develop skills," Pedersen said. "This is the highest level of amateur play prior to college."
Mark Cole, who missed three games during the Christmas season due to airline problems, is a veteran defenseman who helped lead the Americans to their fourth-straight victory on Jan. 8. They defeated the struggling Ice Dogs of Bozeman 6-3 at Four Seasons Arena.
Casey Beauvais, the goaltender, stands second in the league with a 12-5-3 record. He has allowed just 2.61 goals to be scored against him.
Justin Johnson, the backup goalie, is fourth in the league, allowing, on average, just 3.29 goals per game.
The Americans also boast three C.M. Russell high school students. Brandon Baker, at right wing, Miika Huczkowski, at defenseman, and Pat Dwyer, at center, are Rustlers.
"It is unusual to have any students, much less three, but it is kind of nice that it worked out that way," Pedersen said.
Baker is in his third year as an American. Huczkowski is a 17-year-old from Finland, and Dwyer is a 16-year-old.
"Miika is an outstanding player," Pedersen said. "He is getting a lot of attention from (NCAA) Division I schools right now."
But it is also the coach, Rikard Gronborg, a native of Sweden, who brings some professional experience to the program. Gronborg was a free agent signee to the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens in 1988.
He pursued college hockey and was an All-American academic scholar while playing at NCAA Division I St. Cloud (Minn.) State University.
At 31, he has helped lead the Americans to a 20-10-3 record as of Jan. 2, 2000. The Americans, after defeating the struggling Bozeman Ice Dogs during its first game of the new year, matched its second-longest winning streak in the club's short history.
Entering the season in mid-1998, Gronborg guided the Americans to the regular-season championship title and earned Coach of the Year honors.
And Gronborg will bring a little NHL to Havre.
"It is much more exciting than any other hockey we have to offer in Havre," said Pat O'Gorman, Havre Ice Dome building manager. "It's great fun. It is only about two steps down from the pros and it's pretty lively stuff."
Ticket profits will go to support Havre Youth Hockey. At the game, 50-50 tickets will be sold, a raffle of donations by Coca-Cola will be held, and an autographed Toronto Maple Leafs jersey will be raffled. There will also be a puck-throwing contest for the fans between the final two periods of play.
The Americans have averaged a crowd of 1,010 fans at Great Falls. The Havre Ice Dome can hold up to about 800 people, and sponsors hope to sell anywhere from 500-700 tickets for the game.
Tickets are currently on sale for $9 apiece and are available at Erickson-Baldwin Ins., Townhouse Inns, Oxford Bar, and the Hi-Line Hockey Pro Shop in Havre. Les Fuglevand in Chinook also has tickets for sale.
"This is another wintertime activity for people in Havre," O'Gorman said. "It is a good fund-raiser for the program and it gives the kids something else to do."
More than 85 kids and 25 men play the sport in Havre, in addition to the coaches, who volunteer.
"The kids know that the junior A teams are somewhere for them to go from the USA hockey program," said Havre mites head coach Dave Armstrong. "They look up to them, because they play a better quality of hockey and it is a more intense program."
The game should appeal to players and sports fanatics, alike.
"A lot of the kids in my age group (6-8 year-olds) still have a lot of dreams to play hockey after this level," Armstrong said. "To a lot of them, it's really a cool thing, they say. Havre is such a great sports town that I think everyone will enjoy the game."
A game such as this will also bring Great Falls fans into the Havre community.
"This might draw some of the Great Falls people in," Armstrong said. "Instead of Havre going to Great Falls, they come here. I think it's a good thing to develop a little better relationship there."
The Ice Dome, open since 1998, recently installed full bleachers along the southern wall, and the game will give the community a chance to see the building.
"I think it's a nice way to encourage a lot of the community to come up and see our facility," Armstrong said. "The community has been great in backing the hockey program, otherwise, we would have never been able to raise the money to build the building."
The Americans will arrive in Havre on Thursday, Jan. 13, and will eat a catered dinner at the Townhouse Inns in the afternoon. Following, they will go to the Ice Dome and entertain the Havre Youth Hockey programs before the game.
The youth will get the opportunity to skate around with the Americans and to get autographs signed, although this is closed to the general public.
"The level of play is more physical and a lot faster," said Frank Benjamin, a center on the Havre Ice Hawks midget team. "I like the fights. I don't know if this level of play encourages it, but it doesn't discourage it. It is cool because it is so fast-paced."