HELENA — Friday and Saturday, the Helena Bighorns will be taking on the Gillette Wild for the first time since March — when the Bighorns beat the Wild to become Frontier division champions and secure a spot in the NA3HL Fraser Cup national tournament.
“Anytime we get to play a team like this that matches our level brings a playoff atmosphere and it just makes it so much more fun,” Bighorns forward Tyler Bloom said.
The Bighorns enter Friday’s game ranked second in the Frontier with 34 points, with 16 wins, four losses, one overtime loss and one shootout loss.
As for the Wild, they enter Friday ranked first, boasting 40 points, 19 wins, one loss and two shootout losses.
As a second year Bighorn, the 20-year-old Bloom remembers how hard-fought their series against the Wild was last year. The big difference come Friday will be both teams' rosters as the Bighorns returned eight players for the 2022-23 season and the Wild returned six.
"We lost a lot of 20-year-olds last year, but I think our team is just as good. We got a lot of good systems. They're a good coach team as well ... they have a good core group that are back,” the forward said.
Though taking down No. 1 will be no easy feat, it certainly helps that the Bighorns have home ice advantage.
“The Helena fan base is awesome," Bloom said. "They just support us so much that when teams come here, most of them are already beat before they get here. So it helps to be at home.”
For Bloom, the key to success for the weekend is simple.
“Work hard and score more than they do,” he laughed.
Bloom is currently second in scoring for the Bighorns with 13, just behind Harlan Wojtusik with 16.
Both games puck drops are set for 7 p.m. Because of the one versus two matchup, the the Helena Ice Arena expects a sold-out crowd. Tickets are available at Play It Again Sports Helena and online at Tickets | Helena Bighorns.