The Helena Bighorns opened their 2011-12 campaign just as they closed 2010-2011, with wins on the road. Leading a young squad on a season-opening roadtrip, Bighorns head coach Scott Cunningham asked his returning veterans to deliver early, and they did.
-FRIDAY @ MISSOULA-
Bryan Fiol scored the first goal as the Bighorns began their 2011-12 season and defense of their National Championship. Fiol scored on a centering feed from Mark Palacios and put the Bighorns up 1-0 within five minutes of the season start. Missoula tied the score with 2:56 left to play when forward Brett Mathews connected off an Ian Johnson pass. The period ended tied at 1 as both teams headed for the lockerroom in a close contest as Helena outshot the Maulers 12-10 in the opening period.
The second period was another thriller as Missoula's Cory Shafer found the back of the net following the crisp passes of Oscar Bjorkander and Joe Kommer at the 13:03 mark. In a quick response, Helena's Ryan Parkhouse was waiting at the backdoor and beat Missoula netminder McKinlee Baum following a well placed, cross ice Fiol pass with 9:58 to play. The game remainded scoreless for the duration of the second period, the third period, and two 5-minute overtime sessions when it then turned to a shootout.
In the shootout Helena had the first opportunity to score as forward Beau Ricketts missed and Maulers forward George Pagonis put Missoula on the board. In the second leg Parkouse scored for the Bighorns and Dillon Bogart's attempt was denied by Bighorns starting goalie Trey Flesch. In the third round both Fiol's and Paisley's shots were blocked by the Missoula and Helena goaltenders, respectively, and thus once again set the stage for Bighorns defenseman Thomas Emery. Emery, who recorded the Bighorns game-winning shot in extra shots in a shootout just two weeks ago in the DJ's Automotive Cup, was able to beat Missoula's Baum stickside and put the Bighorns up 2-1 in the shootout tally with one Mauler shot left. To finish off the opening night, Flesch stopped Mathews' scoring attempt and the visiting Bighorns bench errupted in excitement.
Helena defeated Missoula 3-2 in a shootout despite being outshot 41-37.
-SATURDAY @ GREAT FALLS-
Building off the Missoula momentum from Friday night, the Bighorns scored early in Great Falls. Ryan Parkhouse connected on a cross-ice pass from Bryan Fiol and scored the powerplay goal courtesy of an Americans tripping penalty. The Bighorns never looked back and controlled both the score and the shots on goal with a 13-8 advantage.
During the second period the Bighorns showed some west coast flair as Mark Palacios (Newhall, CA) passed to Bighorns newcomer and rookie Damon Hanson (Kent, WA) for his first points on the season. Great Falls edged the shots on goal 13-12 as Bighorns goalie Jett Salinas (Los Angeles, CA) kept the Americans scoreless.
In the third period Fiol flipped in a beautiful Bradon Rumble pass at 8:30 left to play and helped give the Bighorns the final score in 3-0 victory. Helena out shot Great Falls 9-5 for the period and 34-26 for the game. The Bighorns went 1-4 on the powerplay while the Americans went 0-8.
The game pushed the Americans' record to 0-2 while bumping the Bighorns to 2-0 and giving the boys from Helena sole possession AWHL's first place.
The Bighorns are on the road again Friday evening in a matchup against the Billings Bulls before playing their home season opener in the Queen City Saturday night against the Gillett Wild at the Helena Ice Arena. Tickets are available at the Helena Ice Arena Boxoffice Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and also at the Bighorns Ticket Hotline by calling 457-2817.
For fans unable to make any game, all American West Hockey League games will be broadcast live over the web on AWHL TV at http://awhl.pointstreaksites.