HELENA — Not too long ago, the Helena Bighorns clinched a spot in the North American 3HL postseason.
But don’t believe that is their ultimate goal.
The Bighorns are still looking up at the Great Falls Americans, who are three points ahead and a Frontier Division title would do wonders come payoff time.
“We need to win the division title if we are going to get home ice throughout the playoffs,” Bighorns forward Luc Cross said.
That quest continued Friday night at the Helena Ice Arena, but they ran into Bozeman Icedogs.
The Icedogs scored two goals late in the third period to steal a 4-3 win and halted the Bighorns momentum from earlier his month.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak dating back to the first of the month.
“It was on us,” Bighorns coach Bob Richards said. “I don’t know how many opportunities we had to score in that game but we never cashed in on them.”
Cross ignited the offense early in the first period when he gave the Bighorns the lead on a power-play goal assisted by Nicholas Noel.
“My setter Nicky won me the puck and I fired it right inside the post,” Cross said.
Bozeman answered with a goal of its own later in the quarter when Luke Hartge grabbed a rebound near the net and scored.
The Icedogs’ momentum continued two minutes later when Hazen McKay found Rhys Phelps for a goal to take their first lead of the game.
But Bozeman’s control didn’t last long.
Helena forward Elliot Plourde, who has led the team in scoring all season, found the back of the net less than one minute after.
Both teams went into the locker room at the first intermission and Richards said he didn’t need to make many adjustments.
The game stayed tied throughout the second period as both teams couldn’t find any momentum.
Bozeman came out aggressively with shots by McKay and Hartge, but Helena goalie Alexander Rogers did not break.
Helena tried to respond, but Henry Kipper’s shot near the blue line was saved.
Bozeman finished the period on a power play but could not take advantage of it.
Finally in the third quarter Cross gave the Bighorns new life when he scored.
But Bozeman did not let up.
After a four-minute high sticking penalty on Helena’s Porter Terrill, the Icedogs tied the game in the final four minutes left when Daniel Davis scored a goal.
Bozeman then took the lead two minutes later when McKay scored on drive down the middle of the ice.
It was just the second loss against the Icedogs this season and the Bighorns will look for some redemption when the two teams will meet one more time in Bozeman on Feb. 23.
But first the Bighorns travel to Missoula this Saturday and their mind is still focused on the postseason.
“We are a little bit behind the eight ball to clinch first but we have been talking for two weeks how to get prepared for playoff hockey,” Richards said. “We just need to keep winning and gain momentum.”