The Helena Bighorns have a bit of a laundry list when it comes to season-long struggles.
Most of them made an appearance on Saturday in an 8-3 loss to the visiting Gillette Wild.
Big, early deficit: Check.
Too many shots allowed: Check.
A rough second game of a back-to-back: Check.
Again struggling to generate consistent offense, not taking advantage of opportunities and making mental mistakes, the Bighorns fell for a seventh consecutive game, in front of 800-plus fans at the Helena Ice Arena.
“It’s a recurring problem, so obviously I don’t have the answer yet,” coach Bob Richards said. “I don’t know. Honestly, at this point, there have to be wholesale changes in the way we get ready for a game. Whatever we’re doing is not working. We’ve tried little things here and there, so maybe we’re just going to have to switch it up entirely.
“Bottom line, especially against good teams, you can’t show up not prepared. Not being prepared starts during the week, and especially the night before and during the day. It’s more mental than physical, even though it manifests itself in the physical out there. It’s all mental, it’s just not being ready.”
The slow start doomed the Bighorns, who were down 3-0 in the first 4:18, as fans were still settling in. The first goal came at 1:08, and the second just 31 seconds later.
Then, with only nine seconds to play in the opening period, the visitors scored again.
Helena’s Ryatt Bayne got the home team on the board in the second period, but the Wild tacked on two more goals – the second, again, coming in the final minute of the frame.
Goals from Ben Kottmeier and John Heddle in the third period had the crowd roaring and brought a glimmer of hope, making it a three-goal game, 6-3.
But Gillette scored 37 seconds after Heddle’s marker, and again four minutes later, ending any chance at a late rally.
Helena finished just 2 of 10 on the power play, and went scoreless during a late, two-minute 5-on-3 opportunity. Meanwhile, starting goalie Alex Kruger was pulled after surrendering the four first-period goals. The first three came on Gillette’s first three shots of the game. He ultimately took the loss, stopping 25 of 29.
Nicholas Battaglia finished the final two periods, stopping 47 of 51, a night after facing 66 shots in a 3-2 loss.
“We lost two goals right on faceoffs,” Richards said. “And those are easy, easy plays. It’s upstairs and guys not focused. That’s all it is. When you have a faceoff, there’s nothing easier. You know where everybody is. They don’t move.
“Right now, I’ve got a Santa Claus list of things to fix. But really, there’s one thing to fix: Attitude during the week and attitude on game day. That’s what we need is to adjust. Our attitude.”
Helena won’t have much time for adjustments. Saturday’s scheduled contest at Great Falls was moved ahead to Thursday night. The team will then play at home on Friday, when the organization celebrates Ice Pirate Night.