By Lee Vernoy, Tribune Sports Writer
March 19, 2014
In the sport of ice hockey, the first objective of winning is first to put the biscuit in the basket. And second, keep your opponent from doing likewise.
The Great Falls Americans haven’t been able to do either against the Helena Bighorns, and are one game away from their offseason as a result.
Helena took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series with a 2-0 shutout Wednesday night before 626 fams at the Great Falls IcePlex, and can pocket its second straight American West Hockey League title with a win Friday night at the Helena Ice Arena.
“We have to look at the positives,” Americans head coach Jeff Heimel said. “We were rather timid with the sticks in the first game, and I felt like it could have gone either way tonight.”
Indeed, the Americans looked considerably better than the club that went down 5-0 to Helena before getting on the board Tuesday night. They gave up a goal with four seconds left in the first when Logan Henne scored off feeds from Parker Olson and Corbin Belling, clearly the last thing the Americans wanted to do.
“One of our defensemen tried to clear the puck, but it wound up on (Belling’s) stick,” Heimel said.
But Heimel also made it clear something else the Americans wanted to do Wednesday night: go 0-for-5 on the power play, including a five-minute major power play assessed when Helena’s Corbin Belling got thrown out of the game after trying to instigate a fight in the third period.
“No power play goals in 120 minutes,” Heimel added. “We just can’t have that.”
It was shortly after that five-minute major when the Bighorns, who lost only two games on their 48-game slate this season, notched their second power play goal of the series when Damon Hanson scored off assists from Theo Campe and John Bonta with 1:59 left in the game, two seconds shy of the Americans’ Steven Butts hopping out of the penalty box after being called for interference.
Evan Hauser held his own in goal Wednesday night, redirecting all but two of the 48 shots he faced. The Bighorns dominated on offense, outshooting the Americans 48-32 — including a 20-9 count in the first period.
But Helena’s defense, led by goalie Alex Lazarski, was equal to the task with 32 saves for coach Scott Cunningham’s Bighorns.
The Bighorns are shooting to make a return trip to the USA Hockey Tier III National Tournament, where they lost in the semifinals one year ago.
Game 3 is Friday night at 7:35 in Helena. Should the Americans win that one, Game 4 will be back at the IcePlex Saturday night at 7.
Helena…1 0 1 — 2
Great Falls…0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. Helena, Logan Henne (Parker Olson, Corbin Belling), 19:56.
Second period — no scoring.
Third period — 2. Helena, Damon Hanson (Theo Campe, John Bonta), 18:01 (pp).
Shots on goal — Helena 20-15-13—48. Great Falls 9-8-15—32.
Power-play opportunities — Helena 1-for-6. Great Falls 0-for-5.
Goalies-saves — Helena, Alex Lazarski (W, 32 shots-32 saves). Great Falls, Evan Hauser (L, 48 shots-46 saves)
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: AWHL Playoffs: Bighorns blank Americans (March 19, 2014)