Three straight Montana road trips for the Gillette Wild will conclude this weekend as they travel to Helena for their first matchup with the Bighorns this season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night at the Helena Ice Arena.
It will mark the first time a Wild team enters a weekend series atop the NA3HL league standings. Gillette (40 pts.) leads second place Granite City (39pts.) by a single point league wide. Gillette will look to build on their six point Frontier Division lead over second place Helena (34 pts.)
“Like I’ve said before, being the number one seed, not even in the league, but just your own division, you’re going to get everyone’s best night,” Wild Head Coach Ethan Hayes said. “We just got to stay focused and play our game, and not worry about anything else. We want to take care of what we can take care of. This definitely means a lot. They beat us to win the division last year, we want redemption, we want revenge, we want it all.”
Welcoming Gillette to town will be one of the most raucous crowds in all of junior hockey. Helena again leads the league in attendance and will cross the 10,000 total fans mark for the season, averaging over 1,200 folks a night.
“It’s actually a great experience, and I love it,” Hayes said of games at the Helena Ice Arena. “We can’t hear anything. There is no communication. Even when we call timeout or when there’s a TV timeout it’s so loud in there that I can yell as loud as I can and the guy standing next to me doesn’t understand. I don’t know if they pass out air horns and wooden sticks at the gate, but they just beat on the bleachers and blow these horns every time you’re trying to talk. It’s a great fan base, it’s a loud rink, it’s a great rink to play in, and I’m looking forward to that experience.”
Gillette enters the series with the most powerful offense in the league, averaging over six goals a night. The Wild have six of the top 13 point scorers in the league: 2nd, JP Johnson (45 pts, 25 goals, 20 assists); 3rd, Isaac Young (42 pts, 10 goals, 32 assists); 7th, Sky Solig (38 pts, 16 goals, 22 assists); 10th, Adam Severson (35 pts, 14 goals, 21 assists); 11th, Saizha Norwegian (35 pts, 11 goals, 24 assists); and 13th, Anthony Foster (32 pts, 16 goals, 16 assists).
Helena ranks third league wide in goals against, and is one of three clubs giving up less than three goals a night. The Bighorns have used two goal tenders this season, Gabe Swanson and Jesse Schindel. Swanson ranks second in the league with a record of 8-1 in 10 appearances, allowing only 12 goals on the 211 shots faced. He is allowing 1.32 goals per contest.
“There is no secret recipe to scoring a goal,” Hayes said. “It’s just being focused and being prepared. It comes down to hard work, effort, determination, and all the things we talk about before games every week. The guys just have to be there and be ready. We do have to capitalize on the opportunities that they give us. We are expecting a good game from a high quality opponent.”
Both teams get shots on net. Gillette leads the league with 56.50 shots per contest. Helena ranks second with their 54.86. The Bighorns defense ranks sixth allowing 26.55 shots per game, while Gillette is twelfth allowing 30.77.
Gillette is 11-0-0-1 and has collected 23 of their 40 points on the road this season. In those 12 contests the Wild have scored 86 goals, a league high for road goals, while surrendering 22 goals.
Helena is 7-0-1-0 collecting 15 of their 34 points at home this season. The Bighorns have scored 36 goals, while surrendering a league low 11 goals on home ice. In three of their seven home victories Helena has shutout their opponents.
If you’re not planning on making the trip Helena, you can catch both games on the big screens at the Wild Watch Party hosted by the good folks at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Gillette.