Kyle Helmberger has patiently waited for his opportunity to be the starter for the Brainerd Warriors and he was determined to make the most of it Tuesday night.
In his first year as the No. 1 goalie, the senior was outstanding in the season opener as he helped the Warriors beat the Fergus Falls Otters 4-1 at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
Helmberger stopped 42 of 43 shots and shut out the Otters for the first 39-plus minutes of the Central Lakes Conference game. He stifled the Otters on six power plays and withstood a 5 on 3 for 1:08 of the final 1:29.
“I thought Kyle Helmberger made the difference in the game for us tonight,” Warriors coach Jim Archibald said. “He held us in there in the first period. He gave us the chance, and the opportunity, to win the game. And, quite honestly, it’s probably one of the best games I’ve ever seen Kyle Helmberger play.”
Helmberger, who played about 10 periods last season, prepared for his starting shot by attending Minnesota Hockey Camp in Nisswa for nine weeks last summer and working with Warriors goalie coach Steve Ebinger.
“I worked really hard,” he said. “I did lots of dryland, lots of training. Coach Ebinger worked with me a lot, and that’s really improved my game.”
The only goal he allowed was scored by Casey Ward short-handed at 5:48 of the third. Ward beat Helmberger to the stick side.
“I thought he was going to shoot it,” Helmberger said. “He put a really good move on so I went down before he shot it. That was my fault, really. I should have saved it.”
The Warriors were a defenseman short as junior Chris Pohlkamp broke his hand in Saturday’s scrimmage at Moorhead and is out indefinitely.
“(The defense) got off to kind of a slow start, but that’s your job as a goalie, to bail them out and get their confidence up and I think I did that tonight,” Helmberger said.
While Helmberger was a rock in net, the Warriors displayed a balanced offense. Logan Rivard scored the game’s first two goals and Jake Ellingson and Griffin Campbell contributed the others in a game that got ragged as evidenced by 11 power plays and 52 penalty minutes.
“It was a tough game to really judge where we are right now,” Archibald said. “Unfortunately, there was a lot of specialty teams, a lot of power plays, a lot of penalties. I was happy with our specialty teams, the way they played.
“Obviously, it’s the first game of the year. We know we have some things we have to work on so we had to get that first one out of the way and use it as a gauge to see where we need to go and what we need to work on the next week in practice.”
Rivard’s second goal highlighted a 3-goal third period by the Warriors. During a 5-minute major assessed against the Otters, he gathered in the rebound of a Campbell shot and banged it home.
About four minutes later, Ellingson flicked a shot top shelf for a 3-0 edge.
Ward’s goal pulled the Otters to 3-1. That’s the way it stayed until Campbell scored through the 5-hole, while Brainerd was short-handed.
In a scoreless second period, Brainerd twice had 5-minute power plays after checking from behind penalties. One of those power plays was a 5 on 3 advantage for 1:42 but Brainerd was stymied by Otters goalie Ian Bjorgum.
The Otters also received a 5-minute power play in the second for a Brainerd check from behind, but they also were unable to get the puck past Helmberger.
During the first period, the Otters outshot Brainerd 19-7 and tested Helmberger often. They twice hit posts in the first 8-plus minutes and had two power plays, but the Warriors came away with a 1-0 lead. Ellingson lifted a high shot against Bjorgum, who stopped it but couldn’t prevent Rivard’s rebound.
■ Injury update
Archibald called Pohlkamp’s injury a “fluke thing.”
“He fell awkward, and broke his hand,” Archibald added. “He had to have surgery (Tuesday) morning. We’re unsure at this time how long he’s going to be out for, but obviously he certainly was missed back there on the blue line.”
Fergus Falls 0 0 1 — 3
Brainerd 1 0 3 — 4
First period: Brd-Logan Rivard (Jake Ellingson, Isaac Johnson) 16:30
Second period: No scoring
Third period: Brd-Rivard (Griffin Campbell) ppg 1:28; Brd-Jake Ellingson (Jed Rusk) ppg 5:23; FF-Casey Ward (Joe Nathe) shg 5:48; Brd-Campbell shg 15:10
Shots on goal: Brd 6-15-14—35, FF 19-11-13—43
Goalies: Brd-Kyle Helmberger (42 saves); FF-Ian Bjorgum (31 saves).
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.