The largest crowd of the season came to the Helena Ice Arena on Friday night expecting a competition. What it got was a coronation.
The finest hockey team Helena has produced in a decade of junior competition left no doubt about its place in history, drubbing the Seattle Totems 10-1 to sweep the NorPac Cascade Cup championship series and earning an unprecedented fourth straight league title.
“It’s special,” said Helena coach Scott Cunningham, who has been behind the bench for all six titles in the past seven years. “When you think about all the work we put in, going back to the summer and how committed everyone was.”
Helena posted its 61st win overall (including a non-league holiday tournament and playoffs) in 63 games and now will test itself against other top teams from across the United States at the Tier III national tournament April 1-5 in Rochester, Minn.
“We’re all looking forward to the national tournament this year more than ever,” said forward Nolan Grauer, one of two Bighorns to play on all four championship teams. “We have a real chance to do something there.”
Friday’s game was a clinic of how the Bighorns have played for most of the year, making a Seattle team that won 46 regular season games look outclassed in every department.
The Bighorns scored three goals on their first six shots in the game’s first 4 minutes, 24 seconds, taking a quick 3-0 lead en route to a 30th consecutive victory on home ice.
“We got up on them a little and they kind of turned it off,” Helena captain Zack Maxwell said. “I just think we’re that much better than them.”
Helena scored on 5 of its 7 power play chances, held a 54-13 shot advantage and constantly won the battles to loose pucks as Seattle seemed less than eager to compete at a high level.
“I thought in Game 1 (a 4-2 Helena win), we kept it close,” Seattle coach Mike Murphy said. “First two periods on Wednesday, pretty similar. Then in the third period they got rolling (outscoring Seattle 7-1) and that carried over to that first period tonight.”
“Our guys didn’t play well enough to beat a team that’s that good. We had to come out and play better than that in the first 10 minutes. I take the fault for that for not having the guys ready. At this level, players win and coaches lose and I take the responsibility for the loss.”
The Bighorns were more than happy to pour it on before the vocal crowd of 1,982, with Anthony Petruzzelli and Tyler Marek each getting two goals and two assists.
“We got the lines moved around for some reason. Things were clicking and the puck was moving,” said Petruzzelli, playing with Marek and Rinaldi for the second straight game.
Kevin Clark, Cody Hess and Michael Sullivan added first-period goals as Helena jumped to a 6-1 lead by the first intermission. Thirteen players recorded at least one point as the Bighorns were so dominant offensively they scored 10 goals with Game 2 hero Ryan Parkhouse failing to register a single point.
“Being on the other side … it’s the worst,” said forward Chris Rinaldi, who twice was knocked out of the playoffs by the Bighorns during his days as a member of the Yellowstone Quake. “This was why I came here.”
Defenseman Kyle Shapiro, the most recent Helena acquisition, put the finishing touches on the rout with a slapshot from just inside the blue line that trickled through the glove of Seattle backup goalie Bryce Fink for the final tally of the night.
Patrick Wenzell got the start in goal in place of Taylor D’Agostino and was rarely tested, needing to make just 12 saves for his first playoff victory.
Mark Vinson: 447-4070 or firstname.lastname@example.org