Bighorns end season with tie against national champs


MARLBOROUGH, Mass. — A season that began seven months and 62 games ago came to a conclusion for the Helena Bighorns on Sunday at the USA Hockey Tier II Junior A national tournament.

Nolan Grauer scored twice in what wound up being the last game of the season for Helena as the NorPac champion Bighorns tied three time defending national champion New Hampshire Monarchs 3-3 in round-robin play. The Bighorns are the first team to ever take a point away from the Monarchs at a national tournament. Helena finished the round-robin portion of the 12-team tournament 1-1-1, with four points, but failed to advance to today’s playoff round. New Hampshire (2-0-1, 7 points) was the lone team from the four-team Division I to reach the semifinal round.

“We needed a win,” Helena coach Scott Cunningham said.

Grauer tied the game with 6 seconds remaining in regulation when he grabbed the rebound off a shot from the point  and put it into the net. Gehrett Sargis had a chance to win the game in overtime for Helena, but was unable to bury a shot from deep in the Monarchs’ zone. Tournament rules call for games to count as ties after a five-minute overtime period.

The tournament was an opportunity for Bighorns’ veterans such as Grauer, Sargis, Rudi Pino, Adam Johnson, Ryan Sutliffe and others to showcase their skills for collegiate scouts.

“They have several schools interested in them,” Cunningham said.

Grauer started the scoring in the first period, poking home a pass from in front of the net for a 1-0 lead.

New Hampshire outshot Helena 15-5 in the period, but the teams went to the locker room tied 1-1.

“We were a little star-struck in the first period,” Cunningham admitted. “Sutliffe stood on his head. We played better throughout the game.”

Helena won the NorPac’s America West Division regular season championship with a 43-5 record (one win was a forfeit), then beat Billings, Yellowstone and Seattle to capture its third consecutive Cascade Cup Championship. The team’s final record 53-8-1.