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 bothteams 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 as the game then turned to a shootout.
It 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 and the first of a 2 game, back to back season opening road trip, Mathews' attempt against Flesch was blocked and the Bighorns bench errupted in excitment concluding the season opener.
The Helena Bighorns defeated Missoula with a 3-2 final although being out shot 41-37 in the close contest.
Looking to carry with the momentum they've just built, the Bighorns again scored early in Great Falls. With just 4:28 into the game, Ryan Parkhouse connected on a Bryan Fiol pass for an early go-ahead powerplay goal courtesy of a Great Falls tripping penalty. Helena controlled the first period with a 1-0 lead and a 13-8 shots on goal advantage.
In the second period the Bighorns showed some west coast flair as second year veteran Mark Palacios (Newhall, CA) dished off to an open newcomer, rookie Damon Hanson (Kent, WA), with 6:38 left to play. Helena goaltender Jett Salinas (Los Angeles, CA) finished the period with 13 stopped shots as the Americans controlled the period with a 13-12 shooting advantage.
The third period closed with another Bighorns goal as Fiol found himself on the scoring side of a Bradon Rumble assist. Helena defeated the Americans 3-0 as Salinas records his first shutout in his first Bighorns start. Helena recorded 34 shots on goal compared to Great Falls' 26. The Bighorns were able to connect on 1 of 4 power play opportunitites while the Americans went 0-8. Saturday's games dropped the Great Falls Americans record to 0-2 and pushed the Bighorns on to sole possession of first place within AWHL with an unblemished mark of 2-0.
Helena moves onto Billings Friday evening for its final road game before its season opener at the Helena Ice Arena Saturday against the Gillett Wild. Puck drop is at 7:35 pm. Tickets are available all week long at the Helena Ice Arena Boxoffice open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and at the Bighorns Ticket Hotline by calling 457-2817.
For fans unable to make it any game, all American West Hockey League regular season contests will be broadcast live on the newly formed AWHL TV, at http://awhl.pointstreaksites.com.