The shorthanded Bighorns gave the visiting Gillette Wild a battle on Friday.
Unfortunately for Helena, it was a losing battle, as the Wyoming squad pulled out a narrow, 3-2 victory at the Helena Ice Arena. The loss was the sixth straight for the Bighorns -- a streak that now includes a trio of losses to Gillette.
“We were shorthanded on every goal that they scored on us,” said assistant coach Tommi Haikka. “We have to stay out of the penalty box.
“The boys played good defense, but we’re a little bit shorthanded, too. So playing four against five in that situation is tough.”
Haikka was the bench boss on Friday, as coach Bob Richards and a handful of his players were serving short, one-game suspensions stemming from last week’s heated weekend series against the Yellowstone Quake.
Still, despite not having a full complement of players, Helena came out strong. The Bighorns’ Ryatt Bayne put his team on the board with an assist from Bradley Estrada late in the first period, and Estrada then found the net only 20 seconds into the second period, with an assist from Kyle Hayter. That had the home team smiling, but the feeling didn’t last long.
Gillette’s cade Boreing scored at 4:54 of the second and Nick Stockert scored at 11:47, as Haikka said, both on the man advantage. The first Gillette goal came after a tripping call, and Stockert scored a minute into a cross-checking penalty.
The tie was broken in the third, Tyler Tennant putting one in a little more than three minutes in. That power play was one carried over from the end of the second period, when, in the aftermath of the first of two scuffles, Jeremy Solko was ejected for checking from behind.
Helena tried to rally late, discussing pulling goalie Nicholas Battaglia for an extra attacker during a breakage in play with nearly three minutes remaining. Under constant pressure from the Wild, however, he wasn’t able to sprint to the bench until only 12 seconds remained.
Battaglia took the loss, but was stellar between the pipes. He made multiple big stops, including a kick save on a Wild breakaway and another in which, on his back, he swept a slowly trickling puck with a swat of his stick just before it crossed the line.
In all, he made 63 saves on 66 shots.
Helena, meanwhile, continued to struggle to generate consistent offensive pressure. After a strong first period, the team managed only 14 shots on goal the rest of the game, finishing with 27 against Lincoln Riley.
Helena will be back at full strength on Saturday, again hosting the Wild at the Ice Arena. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m.