47 in 24 series: Helena Bighorns
August 22, 2017
The 47 in 24 series will feature an in-depth look into all 47 teams in the NA3HL for the 2017-18 season, with new teams being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 47 in 24 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 47 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2017-18 season, including taking a look at their potential roster and their strengths as a team for the upcoming season. It will also take a look back on the 2016-17 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 47 in 24 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
2016-17 Record: 15-31-1, 31 pts. (6th in the Frontier Division)
2017 Playoffs: Lost Division Quarterfinals to Gillette Wild, 2 games to 1
Head Coach: Bob Richards
2017-18 Division: Frontier
The Helena Bighorns, through various name and league changes, have roots in Montana all the way back to 1994. They started as the Helena Ice Pirates, then was changed to the Helena Gold Rush, before landing on the Bighorns in 2001. From 2001 to 2003, they operated in the America West Hockey League – until the league merged with the NAHL – where they played until 2006. At this time, the Tier III Northern Pacific Hockey League (NorPac), expanded into Helena, where the team gained quick success. In 2006, the Bighorns withdrew from the NAHL and the NorPac team took the name for the 2006 season. In 2011, the AWHL merged with the NA3HL, where the Helena Bighorns play today.
Last season, the Helena Bighorns claimed a playoff spot after a late season push. Although the 2016-17 Bighorns had only four returning players, Coach Bob Richards was impressed with his team and their hard work in his first season as head coach.
“As the season progressed, the guys improved. They worked hard all season long. [We were] able to grab a playoff spot, and we had a good playoff series. We played well” Coach Richards revealed.
The Helena Bighorns provided two players on their rosters with college commitments. Kyle Hayter attends Worcester State, and John Heddle plays at Central Oklahoma.
Coach Richards is a familiar face in Helena. Prior to his current position as head coach, Richards played for the Helena Ice Pirates in the 1990’s, and was the assistant coach under Scott Cunningham for years.
“It’s nice because it’s an organization that I am attached to, and I know well.”
With a full season as head coach under his belt, Coach Richards is excited for what this season will bring. The Bighorns start the 2017-18 season with ten returning players, and the “veterans should set the tone for the year,” said Richards.
“[The] guys are continuing to improve and compete. [They will] get better, bit by bit, every day. If we do that, our record will take care of itself, and we’ll have a good season,” Richards explains.
This season will be the Bighorns third year in the NA3HL, and they are looking to capitalize on all the things the league has to offer. In addition to providing players with the opportunity to be seen by so many coaches and programs, events like the Top Prospects Tournament and the NA3HL Showcase provide a good “boost for the guys – to know that so many people were watching them.”
“[The events] shined a good light on the NA3HL, they came through on what is promised – exposure and opportunity.”
The Bighorns are also under new ownership as earlier this summer Randy Rose was introduced as the team’s new owner. “It’s an honor for my family to be a part of this community, as well as part of the Bighorns for the last many years,” said Rose. “And transitioning into a new role, we’re hoping that we bring a future that’s as great as our past.”
Rose and his family have been involved with the Bighorns since they moved to Clancy in 2012. Initially drawn to the team because of player Theo Campe, who like the Rose family was from California, the puzzle pieces quickly fell into place. They became a billet family, hosting several players each season. It wasn’t long before the players persuaded Rose to become president of the booster club.
In regards to community support, Bob Richards and the Helena Bighorns carry a very large presence in the community. In addition to social media campaigns and website advertisements, the team often has a booth at local events, such as the fairs and rodeo. Players also volunteer their time at both schools and in youth hockey programs.
Richards is looking for players that are like minded, and want to use their time with the NA3HL as a “springboard to future goals.”
Next up in the 47 in 24 series: Jersey Shore Wildcats