HELENA — Helena Bighorns coach Bob Richards stormed into his team’s locker room and gave them a message during the second intermission.
His team was trailing late to the Missoula Junior Bruins, who sat 21 points behind them in the Frontier Division standings.
“He was definitely not happy,” Bighorns forward Darren Donovan said. “We all knew we were off.”
So Donovan and his teammates rallied when they were needed most.
Helena scored two goals in the final four minutes of the third period to force overtime.
Two-and-a-half minutes into the extra period, Donovan scored the game-winning goal for a 4-3 victory Friday night at the Helena Ice Arena.
“Elliot (Plourde) was down low battling and gave the puck in the slot and I just looked at the left side and threw it on net and prayed,” Donovan said. “It was such a huge moment of joy.”
The Bighorns were pretty familiar to the Bruins. Just eight days ago they defeated them 7-0 on the road.
But Missoula didn’t show intimidation on Friday night as the team came out aggressive, giving goalie Alexander Rodgers some fits.
The Bruins started with Vadim Zubkov taking a shot, followed by Misha Akatnov taking one just five minutes in.
After an interference penalty by Junior Bruins player Kyler Fullerton, Helena had a chance to take control on the power play but shots by Valary Dietz and Justin Sullivan were off line.
Finally Helena-native Kaden Lindberg skated behind the goal and found Nicholas Pedersen for the goal.
It was just his seventh this season and first since Feb. 2 against Gillette.
The Bighorns had a chance to double their lead early in the second period when, Plourde, the team’s leading scorer, found himself on a breakaway but after a quick stop in the front of the goal, his shot was saved.
The Bighorns’ momentum shifted over to Missoula when it tied the game when Christian Ward found Misha Akatnov for the goal.
Later in the period Ward found the back of the net on a rebound with 1:42 remaining until the second intermission.
“(During the intermission,) we just talked about playing with some desire and some hunger,” Richards said. “We were super flat the first two periods and I wanted to see some passion.”
Things didn’t get better for Helena in the the third period when Ward scored his second goal on a shot in the upper left hand corner.
Helena tried to get some offense but Ian Zaleski and Ricards Groskops missed some shots.
With time running out, the two found some redemption as they brought their team back in it.
First Groskops scored on a pass from Porter Tirrill and just 70 seconds later, Zaleski scored the game-tying goal with 2:50 left in regulation.
When overtime started, it was Donovan’s time to shine.
“There was a lot at stake in this game,” Richards said. “We really want to get that first place spot."
The Bighorns remain in second place, three points behind the Great Falls Americans, and with time to make up more ground when they return to the ice this Saturday in Bozeman.