DJ’s Automotive Challenge Cup Deemed Huge Success
Four days and fourteen games later, the second annual DJ’s Automotive Challenge Cup crowned the Billings Bulls as the 2011 tournament champions.
With the sun barely up, anticipation began building throughout the Helena Ice Arena as the first teams began arriving Thursday morning. With all six teams from the AWHL plus the Glacier Nationals in attendance, everyone had something to prove as the teams took to the ice in what would be their only meetings before regular season play begins September 30, 2011.
Thursday’s early morning matchup between Bozeman and Missoula started with a power-play goal by Bozeman. Missoula quickly came back with two power-play goals of their own. Despite Missoula’s promising lead, Bozeman took advantage of penalties to score five more power-play goals. The game ended in an exciting overtime 6-5 win for the Bozeman Icedogs as Zach Baker scored the game winning goal.
Thursday’s second game consisted of an expansion team match-up with the NORPAC expansion team, the Glacier Nationals taking on the AWHL expansion the Great Falls Americans. Glacier took an early lead, and despite every effort by Great Falls to hold them to a 2-2 tie, Glacier rallied in the third period to win the game 5-2. The AWHL’s other expansion team, the Gillette Wild made an impressive debut during Thursday’s third game. After scoring the first goal early in the first period, the Wild dominated the Helena Bighorn split squad, winning 7-3.
Thursday’s final game saw Helena fans eager to watch their National Champions take on the Billings Bulls. With a lineup made up of mostly rookies, the young Bighorns faced an experienced Bulls club. An early power-play goal for the Bulls gave them a lead that the Bighorns were never able to overcome. The only Helena goal coming at the end of the second period as the Bighorns were handed a 4-1 loss by the Bulls.
The Billings Bulls were back on the ice early Friday morning, taking on the Glacier Nationals in the morning’s first game. After Glacier’s victory over Great Falls the day prior, many weren’t surprised as the team took a quick 2-0 lead in the first period. By the third period however, Billings rallied and quickly stole the lead with first a short-handed goal and then a power-play goal to win the game 4-3 with less than two minutes left in the game.
Game 2 saw the Missoula Maulers eager to prove themselves against the Gillette Wild after an overtime loss to Bozeman the day before. When the first period ended 0-0, no one knew who would be the victor. All that changed in the second period. Despite Gillette’s impressive showing on Thursday, they were unable to overcome Missoula’s aggressive offense and lost 4-0.
Friday’s 3rd game between the Bozeman Icedogs and the Great Falls Americans started out with Great Falls taking the lead by putting up two goals within the space of two minutes. A string of Great Falls penalties give Bozeman the opportunity to score three power-play goals and steal the game from Great Falls, 5-2.
After Helena’s heart-breaking loss to Billings the night before, Helena came back with the need to prove themselves Friday night against their split squad team. The Bighorn Split Squad, who was made up of several players from Colorado, gave up an early power-play goal to the Bighorns but answered with a goal of their own just four minutes later. Multiple penalties gave both teams the opportunity to score several power-play goals. The Bighorns Split Squad took the lead in the second period and many were afraid that it would be a repeat of the night before. The Bighorns rallied in the third period with Ryan Parkhouse sweeping up two goals and giving the team hope once more. Kevin Kassulat score the game-tying goal and fans were treated to two, 5-minute over-time periods. With both teams remaining goal-less in overtime, both teams picked their best shooters for the shootout. Ryan Parkhouse once more proved himself with on opening goal on the Split Squad. The Split Squad quickly answered with two goals of their own that the Bighorns were unable to match. Fans cheered as Boulder missed their final goal and Bryan Fiol of the Bighorns made his shot and tied the teams at 2-2. With the teams finding themselves at the sudden-death point in the shootout, every player knew that he had to make his shot count. A sigh of relief could be heard throughout the arena as Bighorns goalie Jett Salinas easily stopped the Split Squad shot. All eyes were on Tom Emery as he took to the ice, knowing his shot could win the game for the Bighorns. Cheering could be heard throughout Helena when the Split Squad’s goalie was unable to stop Emery’s shot and the Bighorns won the game 6-5 in the shootout.
After a late night of hockey the day before, teams were back on the ice early Saturday morning in what would be the last day of play for some teams, only four teams would be returning to the Helena Ice Arena on Sunday for the championship round. Having lost their first two games, Great Falls hoped that Saturday would be their day to win. Billings scored the first goal halfway through the first period but a rash of penalties gave Great Falls the opportunity to take the lead with two power-play goals. Billings scored a short-handed goal in the second period but more penalties in the third gave Great Falls the opportunity to come back. Billings scored a goal in the last minute of the game and many believed that the game would end there. Then, with less than 30 seconds left on the clock, Great Falls’ Brady Christiaens scored the game tying goal and the game went into overtime. A penalty by Great Falls late in overtime gave Billings the opportunity to score a power-play goal and win the game 5-4.
Game 2 saw the Bozeman Icedogs taking on the Gillette Wild. Gillette scored three unanswered goals in the first period before Bozeman finally got on the board. Bozeman found their rhythm half-way through the second period and dominated the scoring, scoring five more times and not giving up another goal to win 6-5. Missoula made their presence know in the third game, scoring a goal on the Helena Split Squad just 56 seconds into the game. The Maulers never game the Split Squad a chance, despite a tied score of 2-2 in the first period, the Maulers controlled the game, scoring four more goals in the second period. Split Squad goalie Dax Deadrick was able to prevent the Maulers from scoring in the third period, but the Split Squad were unable to make on offensive come back and lost 3-5.
Coming off their shootout win against their Split Squad the night before, the Helena Bighorns looked to cinch a place in the play-offs by beating the Glacier Nationals in game four Saturday night. The Bighorns scored a short-handed goal just 4 minutes into the game and never looked back. Bad blood between the teams resulted in a record 47 penalties and gave the Bighorns that opportunity to score 5 power-play goals and another short-handed goal. Bighorns goalie Trey Flesh was able to stop Glacier’s 9 shots on goal and hand the Nationals an 11-0 loss. A shell-shocked Glacier goalie could be seen outside the locker-room after the game, probably grateful that as a member of the NORPAC, he wouldn’t be facing the Bighorns again this season.
Championship round play on Sunday began with the Missoula Maulers and the Helena Bighorns battling for third place. Helena’s Damon Hanson scored the first goal on a power-play opportunity as the only first period goal. Helena’s Beau Ricketts scored Helena’s second goal just 29 seconds into the second period. Missoula answered with 2 goals and ended the second period with a 2-2 tie. Despite the efforts of the Bighorns, who again opted for a rookie-laden lineup, they were unable to score and the Maulers took the game with a power-play goal half-way through the third period to win 3-2.
The showcase’s two undefeated teams, the Billings Bulls and the Bozeman Icedogs faced off in the tournament’s final game to determine who would be taking home the DJ’s Automotive Challenge Cup trophy. #1 seeded Bozeman scored first just 4 minutes into the game. Billings’ Ryan Thompson scored two goals in the second period to take the lead away from Bozeman. Two more Billings goals in the third period cinched the title for Billings despite a late goal by Bozeman to make the final score 4-2.
The DJ’s Automotive Challenge Cup was deemed a success again this year. The showcase provided an opportunity for the officials to put into practice many new AWHL rules and see how they play out on the ice. Teams got their first look at their opponents for the upcoming season, a chance to work on their plays and lines, and make final roster decisions before going into regular season play which starts September 30 with the Bighorns travelling to Missoula, the Icedogs travelling to Great Falls and the Wild travelling to Billings.
The Helena Bighorns home opener will be held October 8 against the Gillette Wild. Tickets are on sale now and going fast. Fans are urged to purchase their tickets early in order to ensure their seats. Tickets can be purchased online at www.HelenaBighorns.com or by calling (406) 457-2817.