MISSOULA — The Missoula Bruins need to win their morning game Saturday, or their afternoon contest might mean nothing.
The Bruins, who lost seven of their top eight scorers from last year and have only two seniors on their roster, hung tough with the top two teams at Friday's state tournament at Glacier Ice Rink. They lost 3-0 to top-seeded Billings and played to a 3-3 tie with second-seeded Flathead.
They're tied for fourth place out of five teams and need to finish in the top two in order to make the championship game on Sunday.
“It would definitely be a big step for this team,” senior captain Thad Kendrick said. “It’s a pretty young team, but I think it’s manageable if we play to our full potential. I definitely don’t want to end my hockey season tomorrow.”
Missoula earned one point Friday and trails undefeated Billings (four points), Bozeman (two points) and Butte (two points). Flathead, which Missoula tied in its first game, is also fourth with one point.
Teams earn two points for a win and one point for a tie. Each team plays the other four teams once in the round-robin tournament.
The Bruins play the two teams directly ahead of them Saturday, giving them a chance to move up to second. They start with Butte 8:15 a.m. at Glacier Ice Rink and follow up with Bozeman 2:30 p.m.
“I want to see our guys be a little hungrier,” Bruins head coach Greg Robitaille said. “I want to see us get to loose pucks quicker. I want to see more pucks to the net. I want to see more banging in front of the net.
“I’m not looking for pretty hockey. I’m looking for hungry, how-badly-do-we-want-it hockey. We can control how we finish the season. These guys in the locker room have a lot of heart.”
The Bruins got a big break Friday with a comeback tie in their opener. Trailing 3-1 heading into the third period, Bill Lucas and Henry Ledyard scored two goals in a two-minute, 41-second stretch to tie the game. Both goals came at even strength.
Ledyard and Henry McDougall each tallied a goal and an assist. Kendrick had two assists, and fellow senior Henry Charman added an assist. Sam Miland saved 20 of the 23 shots he faced.
In their second game, Brad Muzzarelli made 22 saves in the first two periods to keep the Bruins within 1-0 of Billings heading into the final frame. Billings had scored 10 goals in its first game.
Missoula gave up a third-period goal on a redirect off a defender three seconds after it killed a penalty. The final goal came on a wraparound when the defense turned over the puck in its own end.
“Brad was flipping outstanding today,” Robitaille said. “I think we have the two best goaltenders in the state, so I like our chances against anybody.”
The Bruins were called for 11 penalties totaling 30 minutes against Billings. Combined with their lack of traffic in front of the net for second-chance goals, there were few quality scoring opportunities for the team already depleted by injuries.
In the first period, McDougall had a contested breakaway but couldn’t finish the backhand. Zach Hangas missed a semi-open net when Billings goalie Cole Curry slipped getting back to the crease after misplaying a puck behind the net.
After that, the chances were few and far between against Billings’ smothering defense. Down 3-0, Braiden Schreckendgust had a breakaway but shot the puck high on the stick side.
“We just have to find a way to score,” Robitaille said. “Somebody needs to find a way to score some ugly, dirty goals and give us a chance. We play better with a lead. That first goal is important for us.”