The Storm jerseys have another star on their sleeve. This weekend a team organized by Jim Barone and Marc Nastase played the Copper City Classic in Butte Montana. With St. Patrick’s day falling on a Saturday, and Butte being the biggest Irish celebration in the state–plus a hockey tourney played on the same weekend–beverages were going to be running scared all weekend. With such a perfect combination, it should have been easy to pack a deep bench from the Flathead. But in the last 48 hours before puck-drop, 5 players pulled out of the tourney, and the Storm would only have 9 skaters facing one of the toughest lineups of teams in the state.
Teams flocked to Butte from Bozeman, Missoula, Idaho Falls, Helena, Billings, Miles City as well as the Storm from Kalispell & Whitefish. In the opening game on Friday night, the Storm beat the Miles City Royals 5-1. The Missoula Woodpeckers tied the Bozeman Flying Zambonies 6-6, the Butte Chiefs beat the Helena Caps, and the Idaho Falls Budmen beat the Billings Renegades 3-0. This left only three teams with a win going into Saturday.
Saturday morning the Storm took on the defending champs, the Budmen, who are a well known opponent of the Storm. Storm players Kyle and Travis Hackett are both former Budmen, and Budmen players Ron “Shamus” Demmer and Avon Horne played on the Storm team that won the Flying Mules tournament in Missoula in January. The Budmen jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and things looked pretty grim. But the Storm got one late in the first, the teams traded goals in the second, and in the third period the Storm took charge. Kyle Hackett tied the game early in the period, and with 4:40 to play, center Marc Nastase hit Nate Cochrain for a turnaround shot that put the Storm in the lead for good.
After an afternoon filled mostly with napping, the Storm faced a young Butte team with a 16-17 players, that had won their first two games. It was a tall order with only three defensemen and two forward lines. The Chiefs attacked, used their legs and their lines to wear down the Storm players, but goalie Josh Gesler was too strong. He shut the chiefs out for 48 minutes, and the Storm led 3-0 with six minutes to go. Just when it looked like game was over the Chiefs scored a wrap-around goal, and then a minute later netted a quick shot off a rebound, and the game turned into a battle. The refs called more than 10 penalties in the game, and the final minutes were no less chippy. When the final horn sounded, the Storm had held their ground, and won the game 3-2.
With the only 3-0 record in the tournament the Storm had locked down the #1 seed. It appeared on paper as though their opponent the following day would be the same Butte team, but late Saturday night the tide turned when the Billings Renegades beat the Helena Caps 4-0. The Billings goalie had stood on his head since Friday, shutting out consecutive teams, and with only 3 goals allowed in the tournament, the Renegades made the finals by placing first in the goals against tiebreaker.
As is often the case on travel hockey tournaments, Sunday games are won on Saturday night. With a Saturday night in Butte on St. Patrick’s day, it was impossible to tell how strong anyone would feel on Sunday. A finals birth meant the Storm could sleep in until noon, and the team stuck to an agreed curfew of 3:00am. Everyone made it to the game in decent shape, and the Storm was able to add a couple of friends to reach 11 skaters. The extra legs would help, but the finals were as they almost always are, a knock-down dragout brawl.
Billings scored on the first shift of the game on a fluke deflection through Gesler’s pads. The Renegades goalie showed early he was going to stop any straight-forward shot, but the Storm were able to get him down, and found the net twice in the resulting chaos, on goals by Nate Cochrain and Jamie Schefter. Billings snuck another one past Gesler and the period ended 2-2. The two teams traded goals in the 2nd, and when the Zamboni came out the score was deadlocked at 3 apiece.
In the third, all questions were answered. Gesler again stood on his head and gave up nothing. Travis Hackett scored the leading goal with about 10 minutes to go, and four minutes later Bob Purvis connected with Kyle Hackett in the neutral zone, who placed the puck in the dead center of Marc Nastase’s stick. The pass left him with a 6 foot lead on the last defenseman and despite being hooked all the way in Marc buried the dagger, and sealed the game with a 5-3 lead.
The tournament win was the second for co-captain Jim Barone this year, the first ever for co-captain Marc Nastase. Kyle Hackett was the only other Storm player on both this team and the Flying Mules team, making he and Jim the only Flathead players to win two tournaments this year. It was also the first tournament win for goalie Josh Gesler, who has seen a number of finals but had never won it all.