By Ryan Divish
The Havre Ice Hawk high school team gave its head coach Jeff Buchan a very nice going-away present - a state championship.
The Ice Hawks capped an undefeated weekend defeating the Helena Bighorns 3-1 in Sunday's championship game of the Montana Amateur Hocky Association state high school hockey tournament at the Havre Ice Dome.
Levi Briese scored a pair of goals assisted by Jon Johnstone and Cody McLain while Brett Patrick added Havre's other goal with an assist from Garrett Drake in the championship.
"I couldn't have asked for a better performance," said Buchan, who will be moving to Mexico later this week. "It was a nice way to out."
Havre advanced to the championship game with a 3-1 victory over Butte in the semifinals. Briese scored two goals and Patrick added the other in the win on Saturday night. Earlier on Saturday morning, Havre defeated the Bozeman Freeze, 5-1, in preliminary action. The Ice Hawks jumped to an early lead on the strength of goals from Andy Hanson and Briese. Mark Benjamin added Havre's third goal while Briese picked up a pair of goals in the final period to notch his second hat trick of the tournament.
For the weekend, Briese finished with 10 goals in four games.
"Levi really stepped it up for us offensively," Buchan said.
Said Briese: "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. My teammates did all the work by getting the puck to me.
Besides Briese's scoring, the play of goalie Mark Larson and the Ice Hawk defensemen was stellar all weekend.
"To give up only four goals in four games is awesome," Buchan said. "That's the best goaltending I've seen from Mark Larson all season and our defensemen were solid all weekend."
Larson stopped close to 100 shots on goal in the four games including 50 saves in the two games against Butte and Bozeman.
"I've been playing hockey with Mark for a long time," Briese said. "That's the best I have ever seen him play. He was awesome."
Havre also got a key contribution from its third line. While most teams used only two lines for the majority of the tournament, the Ice Hawks got solid play from its third line all weekend.
"It was a huge factor," Buchan said. "In the final game, they played two lines the entire game while we played three during the first two periods. It gave our first two lines some good rest."
Said Briese: "Our third line really stepped up and made some contributions. Most teams don't use three lines and it helped us all have fresh legs during the tournament.
Briese, who was injured in the celebration following the match as the Havre fans spilled onto the ice, credited their support on the weekend.
"They're a vital part to our team," Briese said. "They're just as important to our team as the players on the ice. The parents, the high school students, they all really get into the game. It fires us up and really affects our opponents."
Said Buchan: "We definitely have the best fans in the state. Hopefully, we can keep that going and keep the interest growing in Havre."