Despite out-shooting their opponents by a vast margin, the Helena Bighorns ended their first period of play at the junior nationals trailing the New Jersey Knights.
Helena, though, kept on shooting. And, ultimately, took a 2-1 overtime win Thursday at the Rochester Rec Center in Rochester, Minn. That puts the Bighorns in a first-place tie atop their division with two points. Atlanta also took a win in overtime, getting the better of the Boch (Mass.) Blazers, 3-2.
Assistant coach Mike Butters was proud of his team for staying in it mentally when the pucks seemed to be going everywhere but in.
“We were on pins and needles,” he said. “We played really well. They got an early goal and it wasn’t a great goal, but these guys, they didn’t get discouraged. They responded and worked their tails off tonight.
“It was a good heart-and-soul effort by these guys.”
The team out-shot New Jersey 26-12 in the first period, but the only puck to find net was behind Helena’s Jett Salinas, a goal by Jack Dieber off an assist from Charles McAvoy.
Salinas stopped everything the rest of the way, however, including a 56-second span in the final minutes of regulation in which the Bighorns were killing a 5-on-3 power play.
The Knights got off half a dozen shots with the advantage, but Butters praised both Salinas and his penalty killing unit — which finished the playoffs better than 90 percent — for its effort.
“We had a couple of nice dump outs and they didn’t get too many premium scoring chances,” Butters said. “Our three guys did just a phenomenal job of keeping the puck to the outside and getting it down the ice.”
The game was tied in the second period by Chris Andre, who picked up an assist from Cody Blom and Kyle Baker. Baker assisted on the team’s overtime winner, too, scored by Christian Axelsson. John Petersson was also credited with an assist in overtime.
The game-tying goal came as a result of more hard work, the team cycling the puck through the offensive zone for more than a minute before Andre was able to pick up a pass and lift it past the keeper.
It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be.
“Just a meat and potatoes goal,” Butters said.
The Bighorns killed off the last few seconds of the penalty in overtime, allowing just one shot, before Axelsson ended it a few minutes later. Working in on the net, Axelsson made the goalie commit to the left and then made a nice move to send it to the far side, off the post and in.
That was Helena’s 68th shot in the win, compared to New Jersey’s 27.
Up today is Boch. The team is led offensively by Colin Cordeiro, who has amassed 20 goals and 52 assists. Patrick Hayes is the team’s top goal scorer with 37, but two others have topped 30 and another four are in double digits.
Cody Stocker was in goal for the Blazers’ loss on Thursday, but he made 55 saves in that contest. He’s been the workhorse through the playoffs for Boch, getting the start in five of its six games. With tonight’s loss, his season record is 17-6.
“If we can beat them in regulation, I was told we will probably win the tie-breaker. So that places a lot more emphasis on tomorrow’s game. They have some really good goaltending and some marquee players. And, really, every team here is playing for their lives. So it’ll be a good one.
“I think that in the first 5 or 10 minutes, you’ll be able to tell how it’s gonna go.”