By Kim Staudinger
With plenty of experience back and a successful season under their belts, the Havre Ice Hawks are ready for their state tournament, starting Saturday in
The Ice Hawks are setting out to defend their state title from last year and are taking the No. 2 seed into the six-team tournament. Havre team captain Jason Johnstone said his team is happy with the spot, even if it isn't No. 1.
"It's a good draw," Johnstone said. "Basically what we were trying to do was stay on the other side of the bracket as Billings."
The Ice Hawks are 1-2 on the season against Billings. One of the losses was the first game of the year for the Havre team.
Due to some make-up games, the Ice Hawks are unsure of their first-round opponent, but know they will face the team that finishes as the No. 5 seed at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"I think the team is as ready as we'll ever be," Johnstone said. "Everybody is getting ready to go."
While Havre has at least one win against each team in the tournament, Johnstone said no team can be overlooked come tournament time.
"Taking from everything we've done this year and everybody we've beat, there's a pretty decent chance we will play in the championship," he said. "We've beat everybody in this tournament, so we know we can, it's just a matter of putting together all the pieces and getting it done."
Teammate Levi Briese echoed Johnstone's thoughts, saying: "Everybody's competitive, everybody can beat anybody at any time. Everybody's a challenge. We can't overlook anybody. We've got to go in and think of that No. 1 so we can be No. 1. It will come down to hard play. We've got to make the least mistakes in the tournament and we'll come out No. 1."
The six teams in the tournament are Havre, Billings, Butte, Helena, Bozeman and Missoula. Havre has compiled a 20-11-3 overall record on the season.
And, according to Johnstone, every member of the team is starting to really click with one another, making Havre a threat at the tournament. Johnstone said his team has many strengths going into the tournament and very few weaknesses.
"Our biggest strength obviously is goaltending," he said. "Eric (McLain) keeps us in every game. The offense is starting to click with one another. Everybody is gelling together pretty well. Our only weakness all year has been lack of concentration, a mental lapse here and there every once in a while."
The hockey season will continue for the Ice Hawks after this weekend regardless of what happens. The Havre team has been invited to represent Montana in a regional tournament in Salt Lake City March 21. Teams from Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico will all be at the tournament.
A best-of-three series next weekend with Sidney will decide which team will travel to the regional tournament to represent Montana. Sidney has the right to challenge Havre because of the schedule its plays being so close to North Dakota.
"To me, the biggest thing would be being the state champion of Montana," Briese said. "But when you look beyond that, being a regional champion would be even better. But I'd like to get the state championship first."