HELENA — Helena Bighorns coaches staff didn’t mind resting some of their top players in Friday’s regular season finale.
They feature players who can step up if the opportunity presents itself.
Take forwards Ty Niskanen and Hunter Pierce for example.
With Helena’s top three scorers resting up for next week’s playoff series, Niskanen and Pierce each scored hat tricks as the the Bighorns made quick work of Butte with a 9-0 win at the Helena Ice Arena.
The win gives Helena its first Frontier Division title under coach Bob Richards.
But with Richards scouting in Las Vegas he handed the reins off to assistant coach Tommi Hiakka against the Cobras.
“It’s one of the things we were looking for this season,” Hiakka said “Now we have to feed off of this and play with the type of atmosphere we had on the ice today.”
Clinching the division gives Helena the No 1 seed heading into the playoffs and will face No. 4 Missoula in a three-game series, while No. 2 Great Falls faces No. 3 Bozeman.
The week after, the winners of each series will square off in a three-game series to determine a spot in the national playoffs.
Butte entered the night in the cellar of the Frontier Division with just five wins, but they didn’t started like it. Cobras leading scorer Tyson Stovin saw two separate openings but missed a pair of open shots.
Stovin even found Jordan Douglass on a nice pass in front of the Bighorns’ goal, but Butte still couldn’t find the net.
On the other end, Helena’s offense gained some momentum nine minutes into the game when Niskanen scored his first goal of the night.
After a quick goal by Hunter Pierce, Niskanen scored another goal on an assist by Nicholas Pedersen and Justin Sullivan.
“I just got lucky on the first two goals,” Niskanen said with a smile. “I thought after that might as well try for the hat trick.”
Niskanen, a 19-year-old forward from Klamath Falls, Oregon, is in his second season with the Bighorns and said he was looking to bring veteran leadership to the club
“I just want to grow (as a player) and help out any way I can,” Niskanen said. “I haven’t had the best season, but it was a great game to end the regular season with.”
Niskanen had an opportunity for the hat trick midway through the second period as a bunch of Bighorns players attacked Butte’s net, but he came up empty.
Later in the period Niskanen’s teammates Ian Zaleski and Hayden Seitz scored two more goals and by the end of 20 minutes, Helena was in complete control.
In the third period, the Bighorns added another goal by Porter Tirrill, followed by Niskanen and Pierce’s hat tricks.
“I just shot it and it went in,” Pierce said.
Helena hosts the Missoula Junior Bruins on Thursday in a best-of-3 series and the players are ready to go.
“It’ll be nice because we can get home ice throughout the playoffs,” Pierce said. “We can make a nice little run.”