(from a Great Falls release)
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – One minute into the game, No. 21 Western Washington drew first blood against Great Falls, taking a 1-0 lead in a game the Argos had to have to keep its playoff chances alive. The Vikings wouldn't score again till five minutes into the third quarter, at which point, UGF led 6-2 on its way to a 9-3 win.
The Argos have now beat a ranked team in consecutive games after knocking off No. 8 Montana State on April 1.
In the win, UGF set a program record for fewest goals allowed in a game. The Argos also limited a ranked team to one first half goal for the second straight game. Both Western Washington and Montana State entered their respective games against UGF averaging at least 15 goals per game. They combined to score 11 against the Argos.
"It's becoming more apparent as the year goes on that we have a shutdown defense. I'd put our defense right now against anyone in the country," UGF coach Fred Boekel said. "To hold a team like Western Washington to one goal in the first half, after hold Montana State to 1 goal in the first half last week, is a statement from our defense and our goalkeeper."
The momentum of WWU's early 1-0 lead was soon erased by an unassisted score from freshman attack Connor Gilbert two minutes later. For the next six minutes, things went quiet. The Vikings did a particularly good job against UGF's leading scorer Josh Smith.
WWU's defense was almost singularly focused on not letting Smith, the second leading scorer in the PNCLL, beat them. That strategy worked for the Vikings in the past, holding Smith scoreless for the only time in his career in an 11-2 UGF loss that knocked the Argos out of the playoffs in 2016. The strategy worked again in 2017, at least in terms of shutting down the junior attackman, as WWU limited him to zero shots and one turnover in the first quarter, and once again zero goals in the game.
With both offenses struggling, and Smith essentially out of the picture, Boekel made a move that has brought results all season – asking star defender Chase Clark to pull double duty as both an offensive and defensive player.
"In that first half, we were struggling a bit offensively, so we got a short stick in Chase's hands," Boekel said. "He really provided a spark for us. We were able to hold the ball on the offensive end for a while. It's just really nice to have a player that versatile."
After an unassisted go-ahead goal from sophomore Kobe Johnson, Clark contributed on each of next four goals scored in the game.
In the second quarter, the sophomore scored to only two goals of the period, both of which were unassisted. He then scored the first goal of the second half and fed Johnson for a goal to bring the score to 6-1.
It was only after Clark's third goal of the game that Western Washington finally scored for the second time. UGF responded with another goal from Clark, and then the second from Gilbert.
UGF's defensive effort was made even more impressive by the fact that Western Washington was more successful at the faceoff X. WWU won 10 of 16 faceoffs, but that possession advantage was almost completely negated by UGF's superiority between the pipes.
Sophomore goalkeeper Jeremy Smith finished the game with 10 saves on 13 shots, as opposed to his WWU counterpart who only saved five of UGF's 14 shots on goal. UGF was also strong on the ride and with its special teams, forcing the Vikings into five failed clears on 19 attempts, and holding WWU's man-up unit to 0-4.
Clark led UGF in almost every field category with 7 shots, 6 points, 4 goals, 2 assists, 4 ground balls, and 6 caused turnovers.
UGF continues to build on its program best record of 6-3 (2-2). The conference playoff picture is still fuzzy, but if WWU loses to the University of Montana, and UGF beats Puget Sound on April 9, the Argos would simply have to await the result of WWU and Gonzaga's head-to-head matchup to see if it can make its first postseason.