It was as though two different Gillette Wild teams showed up to play the Helena Bighorns over the weekend.
The first team, which showed up Friday, scored at least two goals in each period, and didn’t allow one on defense for a 7-0 series-opening victory in Helena, Montana. The second team slumped into the arena Saturday and allowed three unanswered goals in the first 10 minutes of the first period, on the way to a 6-2 defeat.
Gillette (14-9) split the weekend series with Helena (5-19) at Helena Ice Arena. Helena is ranked second-to-last in the Frontier Division, and the Wild had beat it by a combined score of 16-3 in the two previous games before this weekend’s series.
“Friday night I think we were all over them. We kind of dominated the play and it showed in the score,” Wild coach Taylor Shaw said. “Saturday night, we didn’t recognize it was a new night, and got down 3-0 10 minutes into the hockey game, and that’s a large deficit to come back from on the road.”
Forward Declan Young led the group in Friday’s victory with three goals and an assist.
He scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of the first period, and then added another with 7:40 played in the second period to put the Wild ahead 3-0. The goals may have been his last with the Wild as he was called up to practice with the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) Bismarck Bobcats.
The Wild’s Caleb Sanborn scored late in the second period. Then defenseman Easton Apodaca, forward Tyler Kaminski and forward Hunter Beckett each tallied a goal in the third period for a 7-0 final score.
Kaminski finished with a goal and four assists. Wild goaltender Shane Phillips saved all 24 shots that he faced.
“The first night, we were ready to play. We came after them right away,” Young said. “That was the problem with the second game. We got after it way too late and didn’t have enough time to come back.”
In Saturday’s game, Bighorns’ forward Alexander Bailey scored within the first 3 minutes, his teammate Darren Donovan scored less than 4 minutes later, and another teammate Corey Miscovich scored exactly a minute later.
By the end of the Helena scoring barrage, the Wild trailed 3-0 with under eight minutes played in the first period.
Gillette’s Jacob and Tyler Kaminski each scored a goal, but the Wild couldn’t recreate whatever led to a blowout victory the night before, and they lost 6-2. Phillips started in net again and saved 42-47 shots.
“The group just was off. We weren’t ready to go at the drop of the puck,” Shaw said.
Wild head coach Steve Kruk was not on the bench coaching the team in either game over the weekend. He was suspended for four games by the league for an incident at the end of the Nov. 23 game against the Yellowstone Quake, Gillette Wild team owner Dwayne Dillinger said.
Shaw is currently serving as head coach while Kruk serves the suspension for another weekend series.
The Wild are scheduled to play a two-game series against the Bozeman Icedogs at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Gillette’s Spirit Hall Ice Arena. Bozeman is the No. 1 team in the 34-team North American Tier III Hockey League, and the team has a 21-2 record. The Wild lost both of their previous games against the Icedogs by a score of 5-3.