Missoula boys hockey state champs 2021

The Missoula Bruins celebrate their high school hockey state championship on Sunday in Bozeman. They went 4-0 at the tournament and beat the Helena Bighorns in the title game to capture their second state title in three years.

MISSOULA — The Missoula Bruins boys hockey team showed its depth and dominance as it captured its second high school varsity state title in three years Sunday in Bozeman.

The Bruins went 4-0 at the three-day tournament with wins over the teams seeded Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 6 after they persevered through a regular season full of adversity to earn the No. 2 seed. They outscored their opponents 16-3, including 6-0 in the semifinal and final, and had 12 players score at least one goal.

"That's the most excited I've seen that group of guys in a while," Bruins coach Joren Johnson said. "I felt there was a lot of confidence all weekend. I didn't feel any nervous energy. They knew what they were capable of."

Forward Zach Hangas and goalie Kevin Moore both earned first-team all-state honors. Defenseman Easton Leadbetter was a second-team all-state selection.

Moore was solid throughout the tournament as he saved 79 of 80 shots in three games, including all 60 shots he faced across the semifinal and final. Quinn Heggen saved 16 of 18 in the opening game of the tournament.

Adam Jones led the team with four goals and three assists. Leadbetter and Hangas also had three helpers apiece to go with one goal each. Lars Thorne-Thomsen scored twice.

"I think their drive was deeper than everybody else," Johnson said of his team's spirited play.

Missoula beat the No. 4 seed Helena Bighorns, 2-0, in the championship game Sunday. Alex Kirkhus scored a power play goal assisted by Jones in the first period. Leadbetter added a goal in the second period as he scored with assists from Jones and Hangas. Moore saved all 26 shots.

Missoula had opened the tournament Friday with a 7-2 win over Butte. The Bruins then scored a 3-1 win over Bozeman despite being without two players because of one-game suspensions stemming from penalties in the opener.

With those players back, the Bruins upset the top-seeded Flathead Fusion, 4-0, in the semifinals Saturday.

"That game was the best we played all season," Johnson said of the semifinal win. "Defensively, we didn't give them anything. Our big guys, our leaders, we were strong."

The state tournament was supposed to be in Missoula, but the county hasn’t allowed tournaments of any kind. The six seniors — Hangas, Moore, Kirkhus, Daniel Jackson, Gabe Miller and Logan Stabnau — still went out on top as champions. They had also won the 2019 state title.

For Hangas, it's his third state title and third all-state honors this school year after he won crowns in golf and football at Sentinel. Jones, Leadbetter and Connor Hangas were all on the Sentinel football team that won state. Thorne-Thomsen was on Hellgate's soccer team that won state.

This is the second state title for Johnson, who returned to coach the Bruins this season after a few years away. He led them to the 2010 state title, and one of his current assistant coaches, Anders Nord, scored the game winner in overtime to clinch that title, the program's first championship. His staff also includes assistant coach Drew McBeath and goalie coach Josh Nowak.

Missoula ends the season with a 19-5 record. The Bruins overcame having to play all their games on the road because of county restrictions on gathering limits, practicing at 5:30 a.m. because of a busy ice rink, being limited to about 1/3 of their normal amount of games and having two COVID-related shutdowns.

"They deserve it," Johnson said of the team winning state. "They fought through more than anybody else did this season. When things got tough towards the end, we got better instead of worse. That's the definition of a good team."

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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