The Helena Bighorns begin their quest for their eighth league title tonight, as they take on the Yellowstone Quake in Cody, Wyo., in Game One of the AWHL hockey division playoff championship series.
Helena (44-4) captured their sixth regular season title two weeks ago, outdistancing runner-up Yellowstone (35-13).
The Bighorns are playing without Helena native Wyatt Winfield, who was killed in an auto accident prior to their third win over the Missoula Maulers last Friday, when they swept the first-round playoffs.
Winfield’s funeral took place in Helena Ice Arena on Thursday morning. The Bighorns have dedicated the rest of their season to their fallen teammate and will hold a fundraiser this Sunday at Cielo Cocina from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to raise money for the Winfield family.
Helena leads the series 5-2 against Yellowstone during the regular season.
Scott Cunningham’s Bighorns boast four players with 70 or more points, led by Corbin Belling (37 goals, 39 assists) and Christian Axelsson (21 goals, 55 assists), with 76 points apiece.
Captain Ben Henne (38 goals, 37 assists) is next, with 75 points, followed by Dylan Webster (19 goals, 52 assists), at 71. The top scoring defender is assistant captain Logan Hawgood (four goals, 35 assists), at 39 points. After piping a pair of goals in the 8-0 clincher over Missoula, Hawgood looked skyward in his home barn, raising both arms in tribute to Winfield.
Goalies Jett Salinas and Alek Lazarski have posted 10 and eight shutouts, respectively.
Yellowstone is led by Michael Berrens with 82 points, and George Slilchal at 78. Goalie Jared Schletty owns two shutouts.
Helena will finish out the best-of-five series at home March 29-31.