In a series filled with high speed, high emotions, and high tension, it was a moment of slowing things down that earned the Gillette Wild a split with the Helena Bighorns this weekend. Gillette dropped the opener 3-1 on Friday night before returning the favor in a 2-1 victory Saturday.
“I told the guys, Helena played better than they had on film all year,” Wild Head Coach Ethan Hayes said. “They stepped up to the challenge, and they accepted it, and they battled. They flat out beat us on Friday. There’s no way else to put it. And then Saturday we just inched them. It was just really good hockey all weekend.”
Working a power play late in the third period on Saturday night, Isaac Young took a soft backhand pass from Johan Palmqvist just inside the blue line, gathered his thoughts, and sent the puck toward the net and past Bighorns goaltender Marek Andres. That goal would be the difference giving Gillette a 2-1 victory Saturday.
“That was big right there,” Hayes said of Young. “Him taking the time, waiting that second to get some traffic in front, and then letting it go was the right move. I’m proud of him for that.”
Forward Zach Slinger opened the scoring Saturday night for the Wild. Slinger gathered up a Cade Voge shot that had been turned away by Andres, and falling to the ice was able to deliver a backhand tap on the puck sliding it past Andres, who appeared to lose the puck momentarily following blocking the Voge shot.
“Slinger played like a monster all weekend,” Hayes said. “I thought he was one of our best players, collectively, throughout the two game process, I thought he played the most consistent. His feet were always moving, he was never scared to go into the rough areas, he was never scared to be in front of the net, and play like a man. He played tough all weekend long. Every time he was on the ice it was a positive for us.
The pair of goals would prove to be enough to get the win as following a Bighorns power play goal just before the midway point of the second period, Wild goalie Cole Wheaton would hold Helena scoreless for the second half of the game.
The bounces that looked to go the way of the Wild on Saturday, were the same bounces that Helena had in their favor on Friday night.
Bighorns defenseman Garrett Bogan tossed a puck at the net that was knocked down leaving the puck sitting just in front of the crease. Helena forward Harlan Wojtusik was first to put stick to puck, knocking said puck into the air knucleballling over the left shoulder of Gillette goalie Jake Turek into the back of the net.
Young evened things 1-1 with a wrist shot past Andres, before Helena would again gather up a loose puck on an unattended rebound. Turek turned away a shot from Bighorns forward Camden Cunningham. The saved puck found the stick of Helena forward Zach Turner, who was working his way back from behind the net, and was fired along the ice to the far side of the net past a sprawling Turek.
In splitting the series, Gillette maintains a one point lead over Granite City league wide, and holds on to the six point lead over Helena in the Frontier.
Gillette will face the Bighorns four more times in the regular season, returning to Helena for a series in early January, before playing host in late February.