Elliot Plourde went into the 2018-19 season determined to enjoy his final year as a junior hockey player.
That enjoyment carried over beyond practice and games to taking advantage of idle rink time to spend as much time on the ice as possible.
“I just really like being on the ice,” Plourde said. “I love messing around with the puck and shooting.
"The ice sheet we play on isn’t always rented, and I get the chance to just go out there and work on my shot, work on my hands, and just skate around.”
As a result, the 20-year-old from Washington state has transformed his game.
“I’ve always been a pass-first kind of player,” said Plourde. “This year, I’ve really focused on getting the puck past the goalie.”
Plourde had felt more like a playmaker than a scorer until opening his final season of junior hockey by scoring goals in his first 13 games for the North American 3 Hockey League’s Helena Bighorns.
“I sort of focused specifically on scoring,” Plourde said. “It’s just little things: changing the angle on my shot, getting to better spots on the ice, just stuff like that and I’ve played with some really skilled guys this year, too, which is always nice.”
Plourde helped the Bighorns race to the top of the Frontier Division.
The team struggled midway through the season, then finished strong to pull out a division title on the final weekend.
When the Bighorns slowed down, the emphasis became on playing better. Plourde said the team wasn’t really worried about the division title until it was within reach in the final five games of the season.
“For the second half of the season, we were just trying to get back to where we were early in the season,” Plourde said.
Plourde leads the team with 42 goals and 30 assists in 44 games. He finished the regular season with nine goals and eight assists in an 11-game scoring streak.
“One of his best attributes is that he puts forth his best effort whether it’s practice or the game,” Bighorns head coach Bob Richards said.
None of the Bighorns have the gaudy numbers put up in some of the other divisions where championship teams dominated. Instead, they persevered through the NA3HL’s most competitive division.
Richards has led the Bighorns through a steady climb to the top of the Frontier in his three seasons. A large veteran group, particularly in the defensive corps, got Helena off to the start that ultimately helped give the team enough standings points to wind up on top.
“On the defensive end, we have Valary Dietz, Henry Kipper and Jeremy Solko,” Richards said. “They’ve been with me in Helena since day one.
“This year, they’ve grown up very well back there. Defensively, our goals per game is down. I’m grateful for those guys deciding to come back for their third year, knowing we made a good step forward last year. I think they kind of came in and helped out as far as setting a tone.”
Plourde and the defense were at it again in Thursday’s Fraser Cup Playoffs opener. He had three goals and two assists as the Bighorns beat the Missouri Junior Bruins, 7-2.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.