Austin Lawless battles with a Sheridan player during a game on Dec. 31.

The Yellowstone Quake beat the Helena Bighorns 4-1 Jan. 6 in an unusual weekday day game at Riley Arena. 

Will Sobaski broke the game open with a goal late in the third period to make it 3-1. Jack Harris then added an empty-net score with seconds remaining to fully clinch the win.

Despite it being a weekday day game, many still turned out for the contest, including a number of homeschool families such as parents Tommy and Valerie Traugott who moved to Cody in August with their four hockey-playing sons.

“The boys are homeschooled so it gives us the freedom to break away and all come and enjoy the game,” Tommy Traugott said.

The Quake were originally scheduled to play Helena earlier in the season, but those two games were postponed due to COVID-19 related issues on the Helena team. Yellowstone had to squeeze the re-scheduled games in between weekends when the only rink time available was in the middle of the day.

Coach Phil Oberlin said he found himself repeatedly making references to the game being played at night.

“I kept catching myself saying, ‘We’ve got to play hard tonight,’” he said with a laugh.

The 11 a.m. start time was a bit different for the Quake players, who play nearly all their games at night. The early start meant players and coaches had to arrive at the arena around 6:30 a.m., a more typical start time for youth hockey games.

Harris and Dylan Rumpke got the Quake started with two scores early in the first period, both assisted by Joe McCormick.

McCormick also made a crucial block on a Helena shot in the final seconds of that period to keep it at 2-0.

During the intermission, homeschool brothers Canaan, 10, and Cade Gibson, 7, furiously shoveled ice shavings the zamboni had pushed off the surface of the ice into a drainage grate outside the boards. Both boys were confident in their work.

“It was fun. I did it yesterday, too,” Canaan said. 

Also in attendance were the McGonagles, another homeschool family.

“I’m, ‘at work right now,’” Brian McGonagle joked using air quotes. 

The second period was a back-and-forth affair with the Quake outshooting Helena 14-13. 

About midway through the second the Quake went on a 8-0 shooting spree, hammering Helena goalie Kevin Taunton with bullets.

None fell through, though, and the score stayed 2-0.

Helena (8-14) scored at 17:11 in the third to make the game much more competitive and Quake fans uneasy.

As the game tightened on the ice, bright sun poured through the Riley Area windows, a contrast with the stormy drama taking place inside. 

The Quake defense and goalie Connor Carroll clamped down, making a number of key blocks to weather the barrage. Although the Bighorns did outshoot the Quake 9-2 in the final period, most of Helena’s looks were from tough angles or with a defender hovering on them.

“They (defense) really helped me out, they were blocking shots tonight,” Carroll said.

At 2:15 Rumpke then found Sobaski on a fast break, who beat Taunton from point blank.

“Dylan is just a great player,” Sobaski said.

Rumpke has 40 points on the season, seventh in the Frontier division and ninth in the NA3HL.

Carroll made 31 saves in the win. He has had a .895 goals against average or better in his last five appearances.

“Just not staying too high, not too low,” he said.

The Quake now have five goalies on their roster after Oberlin added some players toward the end of the first half of the season. He said this has breathed some competitive fire into his net minders.

“They certainly have stepped up the last few games,” Oberlin said. “That’s huge. We need them to play well for us to have success.” 

The Quake have won three out of their four games since the start of the new year.

“I think it’s just we’ve been showing up ready to play,” Sobaski said.

The win was a nice turnaround after Helena had beaten the Quake 6-0 the day before. Yellowstone could not find any offensive rhythm in the loss, down 4-0 entering the third. 

Oberlin attributed the loss to fatigue stemming from playing a fourth game in six days.

“It was pretty hard for them,” Oberlin said, “but knowing that, we need to make sure that we’re ready to go because when we get to the playoffs, if we do make it to the Fraser Cup, we’re playing five games in five days.”

Oberlin said the team, “knew they had to respond” the next day and “know what is at stake.” With less than two months remaining in the season, every game is just as important as the next for making a playoff push.

“Essentially the message was, ‘Nobody cares if you’re tired,’” Oberlin said. “‘Find a way to work through it, work to the next level.’”

The Quake (8-15) will take on Butte (3-21-2) 7:30 p.m. at Riley Arena on Friday and Saturday.

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