Local boys contribute to 1st, 3rd and 4th place teams
By all accounts it was a great tournament weekend in Whitefish. The annual smash ‘n bash came and went, 10 teams competed for the cup. For the first year in a long time, the elite players of the Flathead only entered one full team in the competition; however local players joined onto four of the visiting teams.
All teams played on Friday night, with the Missoula Cutthroats, Whitefish, Missoula Express and the Sparwood Chiefs all recording wins. Colorado earned a tie against Calgary. Looking at the formula it was clear it would take three wins to make the finals.
By 1:30pm on Saturday, there were only three left standing, as Whitefish handed the Chiefs a 4-1 loss. Whitefish had looked strong in both games, but had not earned the 5 goals or shutout that would ensure max points. The Cutthroats won early against Calgary, the Express beat the Blackhawks, and the Cutthroats won again at 4:30pm against Colorado, setting up a must-win for Whitefish against the 0-2 Fernie team. The Express had only scored 2 goals in their win over the defending champ Blackhawks, but they were expected to win in the late game against Big Sky.
The 7:30pm game for Whitefish vs Fernie was one for the ages. 2-0 vs 0-2 mean nothing when Fernie defenseman #55 buried two slap shots from the blue line in the first period. Whitefish answered both within a minute, and had the lead in the 3rd period 4-3. But Fenie got two more unanswered, the last with only 20 seconds to go. The walls and stands were lined with disappointed fans, but it was no choke. They outshot Fernie 39-13 and did everything they could except score one more goal. Fernie’s goalie played an amazing game, and the bounces just didn’t go Whitefish’s way.
The Missoula Express—a team that included locals Keith Ridgeway, and Heath Root, as well as long time Whitefish resident Jamie Schefter—solidified their seat in the finals with a 7-2 win over the Big Sky Lumberjacks in the late-late game. The stands were packed with fans and players of the Whitefish team, rooting against the Express, but the only locals to represent Stumptown in the finals would be on the Express.
Sunday morning Whitefish played in the 3rd place game against the MN-Duluth squad. The game was hard fought, tied 2-2 in the final minutes when Geoff Sanderson crossed the blue line two-on-one, scored through the five hole and put Whitefish up for the duration. An empty-netter ended the scoring 4-2.
In the finals the two Missoula squads squared off. The cutthroats came out of the gates amazingly strong—placing 9 of the game’s first 10 shots—and jumping out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first. But the Express came to life. Heat Root beat a Cutthroat defenseman to bury a highlight-reel goal to tie the game 2-2 midway through the 2nd. When the Express connected on a 1-timer with 3 minutes to go in the 2nd the shots were even 16-16. They simply would not be denied. Root wasn’t finished, scoring the dagger with seconds to go in the 2nd. The shot went in over the goalie, banked off the top post and in. The Cutty’s were stunned.
The third period was a blur, with 26 of the fastest players in the state of Montana trying to gain the advantage. But the puck never saw the net again, and the game ended 4-2. Both teams placed 25 shots on net.
The event was a great one, with teams from 9 cities bringing over 110 players to enjoy the festivities of the Winter Carnival weekend.