MISSOULA — The Missoula Lady Bruins U19 hockey team is going for its third consecutive state championship and will have the opportunity to pull off the hat trick on its home ice.
The state tournament features six U19 teams from the Montana Amateur Hockey Association and will run from Friday through Sunday at Glacier Ice Rink.
“I think it’s going to be more of a mental game for us,” said seventh-year Lady Bruins head coach Grace Hoene, who’s coached the group of girls with Annie Petschauer going back to when the players were in middle school. “There’s a lot of pressure coming in being two-time state champs, so we’re going to rely on the habits we’ve built and play hard and play for fun and play with some grit because that’s kind of been our theme these last couple years is you have to play hard every single shift.”
The Lady Bruins enter as the top seed with a record of 17-11-2. Senior Sid Triepke highlights the offense with 33 goals in 26 games and 9.8 shots per game. She’s one of three seniors, along with Hannah Huang and Andi Carnes, all from Hellgate.
Missoula has alternated goalies between Hellgate junior Aubrey McKay and Big Sky sophomore Natalie Herr as a development plan. They’ve both saved over 200 shots this season. Hoene expects the team to go with McKay at state.
“We’re an aggressive team, so we’re all over the ice with constant pressure from our players anywhere on the ice,” Hoene said. “But at the same time, the teams we’re playing aren’t getting a whole lot of opportunities to score, so we’re smart and defensive minded at the same time.”
The U19 division is divided into two pools, with Missoula joined by fourth-seeded Glasgow and sixth-seeded Butte. The other pool features No. 2 Flathead, third-seeded Bozeman and No. 5 Havre.
Each team opens play against the other two teams in their pool. The Lady Bruins plays noon Friday against Butte and 7:45 p.m. Friday against Glasgow.
The top two teams in pool play advance to the semifinals on Saturday, with the top team in one pool playing the No. 2 team from the other pool. The winners of the semifinals will play in the title game noon Sunday.
“Havre, Bozeman and Glasgow all have senior goalies, and so they’re tough to score on, so that’s a concern to us,” Hoene said. “But we’re usually able to put the pressure on and get a shot on goal that even if they’re having a good game they can’t stop the quantity of shots we put on them. Flathead has had great development in their program in the last three or four years and have become more consistent.
“We’re definitely a favorite, but we’re not going to act like that. We definitely have some competition that will cause us problems.”
After state, Missoula will become the first U19 team from Montana to ever compete at the national high school tournament, according to Hoene. To go to nationals, a team has to declare before the season that its roster will be comprised of solely high school players, whereas a U19 team is allowed to have players from seventh grade through college freshmen.
There will also be a U14 tournament featuring teams from Missoula, Flathead, Bozeman and Miles City running alongside the U19 tournament. The teams play each other once, and the top two meet in the title game.
Admission is free for all games.
Frenchtown senior closing final year on positive note
Frenchtown’s Jared Cole had his senior year put on hold when he dislocated his ankle and broke his tibia and fibula in the second game of the football season while playing quarterback.
Cole returned for basketball in January, has gotten increased minutes over the past month and started at districts last week, where Frenchtown finished fourth to advance to divisionals.
“To see him be able to come back and have an end to his high school career like this really makes you feel good,” Frenchtown head coach Mark Quinn said.
The 6-foot-3 Cole averaged 13.3 points in the past seven games. At the district tournament, he averaged 11.5 points in four games.
“He’d probably tell you he’s a step slower on defense (after the injury), but he’s always been able to shoot the ball so well that he’s been great for us,” Quinn said. “He just understands the game so much better and is so much more comfortable on the court and is able to use his body better.”
The lone senior on the team, he scored 32 points on senior night as the team set screens for him and worked to get him as many shots as possible. It was a special night emotionally but also one that Quinn felt helped Cole gain more trust in his leg.
“It was a good way to end the regular season because it pushed him into the postseason with more confidence mentally,” Quinn said.
He added that Cole’s impact has gone beyond just stats.
“It’s nice to have him on the court because the kids respect him a lot and follow his leadership,” Quinn said. “He’d tell you he’s not a vocal leader, but the kids realize the work he’s put in to get to this spot, and it gives them the understanding of the privilege and limited opportunity to play high school basketball.”
Former Bronc finds early college success
Frenchtown native Austin Means has helped the Colorado School of Mines men’s basketball team have a big season. Mines is ranked No. 11 in the country among Division II teams, has won 21 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in any division of NCAA basketball, and recently wrapped up the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title.
Means, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, has averaged 7.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 25 games off the bench but broke out with a career-high 23 points as Mines clinched the title Saturday. Mines is 22-3 overall, 19-0 in conference action and battled Pac-12 Colorado within nine points.
Means, a two-time all-state selection at Frenchtown, plays for 13th-year head coach Pryor Orser, a Gardiner native. Orser was the Class C State MVP in 1985 and played at MSU-Billings before he went on to be an assistant basketball coach at Carroll College, MSU-B and Montana, the last coming under Griz head coach Don Holst.