Bighorns top Billings for 20th win

The Helena Bighorns are getting more consistent, which may mean even more trouble for the rest of the NorPac Junior Hockey League.

The Bighorns bested the Billings Bulls, 4-1, Saturday at the Helena Ice Arena in front of 950 enthusiastic fans, improving their American West leading record to 20-1. It was the team’s 10th consecutive win, the second time already this season the Bighorns have rolled off 10 straight.

“I thought this was one of our better efforts in the last three or four games,” Bighorns’ coach Scott Cunningham said. “The guys really worked hard out there tonight.”

Helena’s scoring came behind a balanced offense, as four different players planted the puck in the net.

The locals jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Rudy Pino and Matt Hedderly, at 10:03 and 13:56, respectively. It was Pino’s team-leading 20th goal of the year.

Billings (8-12, 16 points) pulled to within one in the second stanza, on a goal by Nicholas Scheaffer at 9:22.

But then the Bighorns salted the game away in the final frame, when Michael Sullivan fired in a shot between the pipes at the 6:16 mark.

“My linemates were battling down low, and then Cody Hess passed the puck to me and I took a shot in the slot,” said Sullivan, who is one of two players on the squad from the Capital City, along with Wyatt Winfield. “The goalie blocked it, but I got the rebound about two feet in the air, and just batted it in.”

Sullivan, 18, attended Helena High before taking his senior classes online. He also had an assist on Hedderly’s goal.

The Bighorns’ Zach Maxwell added an insurance tally at 9:38 to close out the scoring.

“We’ve been a little more inconsistent than we’d like to be,” said home team forward Adam Johnson, who was named co-player of the game with Sullivan. “We’ve been winning, yeah, but not really the way we want to. But tonight I felt we played much better. Everybody worked hard, it was a total team effort, and our goalie (Ryan Sutliffe) had a good game in goal.”

Sutliffe stopped 6-out-of-7 shots.

As an indication of the dominance by Helena, the hosts outshot the Magic City squad 51-7. Billings goalie Brandon Amatto amassed an incredible 47 saves.

Hess and Kevin Clark posted a pair of assists each for the victors.

Helena improved to 5-0 against Billings.

The local hockey players weren’t the only winners, as spectator Mark Durbin collected $1,000 in prize money for capturing the Chuck-A-Puck contest.

Helena next visits Bozeman on Wednesday.

Curt Synness: 449-2150 or curt52s@bresnan.net

HELENA 4, BILLINGS 1

Billings  0   1   0 — 1

Helena   2   0   2    — 4

First Period

1, HEL, Pino (Clark, Schindler), 10:03. 2, HEL, Hedderly (Sullivan, Hess), 13:56.

Penalties – Schindle, Hel (roughing), 1:05; Maxwell, Hel (tripping), 1:59; Leonard, Bil (hooking), 2;27; Oberling, Hel (elbowing), 6:35; Schindler, Hel (interference), 15:34; Schindler, Hel (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:34; Garbiso, Bil (elbowing), 16:43.

Second period

3, BIL, Scheafer, 9:22

Penalties – McKenna, Hel (interference), 0:54; Garbiso, Bil (roughing), 2:22.

Third period

4, HEL, Sullivan (Clark, Hess), 6:16. 5, HEL, Maxwell (Buksm, Laneville), 9:38 (pp).

Penalties – James, Hel (interference), 2:07; Yslas, Bil (holding), 2:07; Maxwell, Hel (holding), 6:16; Sheehan, Bil (interference), 8:20; Kimberling, Hel (fighting), 10:37; Yslas, Bil (fighting), 10:37; Yslas, Bil (misconduct), 10:37; Leonard, Bil (kneeing), 12:33; Garbiso, Bil (cross checking), 14:08.

Shots on goal – Billings 1-4-2 – 7. Helena 16-12-23 – 51.

Power plays – Bil 0 for 5, Hel 1 for 7.

Goalies – Bil, Amatto (51 shots-47 saves). Hel, Sutliffe (7-6)