Frontier Division Semi-Finals, Game 1
Helena 4 @ Gillette 1 (Helena leads best of three series, 1-0)
The Bighorns knew they'd be in for a scrap, and that's just what they saw Wednesday in Wyoming.
But, Helena weathered the Wild's attack and came out on top, 4-1, in the first game of their NA3HL Frontier Division playoff series at Spirit Hall Ice Arena.
The visitors found themselves in an early hole when Trevor Ruiz beat Grant Martens at 14:24. But the Bighorns wouldn't trail for long.
When Gillette's Brandon Beard was whistled for roughing, it took Johnny Bonta just 11 seconds of power play time to knot it up. Assisting on Bonta's goal were Nick Trefry and Brian Skillicorn.
There was no scoring in the second period, but that was largely thanks to Martens' efforts between the pipes. Coming out of the first intermission energized, the Wild went on the attack. The home team finished with an impressive 32 shots on goal in the frame, all of them turned aside by Martens. He would finished the game with 42 saves on 43 shots.
After making it through the Wild's barrage, Helena threw a few pucks at Alex Feese in the third. And it didn't wait long to do it.
First it was Cody Vanthournout, with an assist from Bonta and Brandt Miller, sneaking one past just 33 seconds into the third.
Not quite four minutes later, Trefry made Gillette pay for a holding call, zipping one through on the power play. Bonta and Miller were credited with the assists.
Helena played with the two-goal advantage for five minutes before the team's power-play unit was back on the ice — a theme in the third. Of the 14 combined penalties assessed on Wednesday, eight of them came in the final 18 minutes. Again, the Bighorns made it count.
This time it was Helena's Matt Mohar lighting the lamp, with assists going to Miller and Trefry. That goal made it a 4-1 game, resulting in the final margin.
The best-of-three series moves to Helena for Game 2 at 7:05 p.m. Friday. If necessary, Game 3 will be Saturday night. The winner of this series will then take on the winner of the Great Falls/Billings battle. The first game in that half of the playoff bracket is Thursday.