For the last handful of years, any team with title aspirations had to go through Missoula Hellgate and Bozeman.
Glacier knew that better than most.
The Wolfpack lost to Hellgate in the state title game in 2017 and in the semifinals each of the last two seasons.
Given a chance to advance against the Hawks for a change, Glacier made the most of its opportunity Tuesday. The Wolfpack, the Western AA’s No. 2 seed, posted a 2-1 Class AA semifinal win at Bozeman, the Eastern AA’s top team.
Bozeman saw its season end with a 15-2 record. The Hawks were state runners-up to Hellgate in 2019 and 2020 after beating the Knights in the 2018 championship.
The Hawks pieced together a dominating regular season in which they didn’t allow a goal for the first eight games. They allowed just four goals all season heading into Tuesday’s match.
Bozeman head coach Hunter Terry said he knew Glacier (14-1-2) would present a challenge for his team.
“Besides the result, I think everything that happened was really what was expected,” Terry said. “We knew they were a very tough, very physical team. We also knew they had really good size. Overall I think we performed pretty well and gave ourselves quite a few chances. They got two quality chances in the first half and put them away.”
Glacier netted a pair of goals by senior Sullivan Coggins in the first half, and that proved to be enough.
A goal from Bozeman junior Torren Hill in the 78th minute off an assist from Riley Bloomer prevented the team’s second shutout of the season. The Hawks briefly swung the game’s momentum, but it was too late.
“It felt great,” Hill said. “We were trying to build on our success right there and unfortunately it didn’t come through.”
The Hawks, though, had plenty of chances.
“We had four other plays just like it,” Terry said of the sequence when Bloomer found Hill open in the box. “That was just the one that we ended up connecting really well.”
Coggins opened the scoring in the game’s eighth minute off an assist from Sam Ells. Bozeman nearly tied it in the 21st minute on a Hill pass into the box that narrowly missed Bloomer and Aiden Edwards on the backside of the goal.
In the very next minute, Coggins struck again following a pass from Hunter Lisowski.
Bozeman’s Joshua Angell dribbled the ball with a head of steam in the 29th minute, but he pushed his shot just right of the goal.
Drew Johnson — the state’s top scorer with 37 goals — settled a ball near the top left side of the box in the 69th minute. His shot went just over the crossbar. Bloomer almost found Hill for a goal in the 76th minute — two before the Hawks actually scored — but the shot was punched away by Glacier goalkeeper John Pyron.
Glacier head coach Ryan Billiet said his team’s defensive performance shouldn’t be a surprise.
“That’s a very experienced back line,” he said. “We tried to make the gaps as small as possible. We tried to close them, make them play negative and not give them much time on the ball because we knew they were dangerous.”
The Wolfpack had only allowed eight goals all season, including one last week in a quarterfinal win over Gallatin.
“They’ve continued to prove it time and time out,” Billiet said of the defense. “To see it against a team of this caliber is spectacular.”
Terry acknowledged the team didn’t have much experience playing from behind. With so few goals allowed this season, there weren’t many opportunities to learn.
The Hawks trailed 1-0 five minutes into their second meeting with Gallatin and lost by that same margin. And in one meeting against Billings West, Bozeman allowed goals in the 11th and 53rd minutes but managed to answer each time, with tying goals in the 26th and 70th minutes. The Hawks went on to win that game 3-2.
Otherwise, Bozeman usually went ahead and stayed ahead.
“Being able to play when you’re down is a skill set and that definitely doesn’t help us (to not have that experience),” Terry said.
The Hawks will lose six seniors from this team — Bloomer, Johnson, Angell, Fili Oberly, Sam Robinson and Elias Morris. Terry said he’s proud of the group for all it accomplished.
“We have a very strong culture and tradition, and we’ve been able to do it year after year because of awesome seniors,” Terry said. “This season is no exception.”
It was not the ending the Hawks hoped for or expected. But even as the players hugged after the game, they could still recognize their year as a productive one.
“Like any other season we had our ups and downs, but I think this group of players, we really connected,” Hill said. “It was really successful, not only for our record, but just our bonding and our new style of play. I’d say it’s really successful. I’m really appreciative of all the guys on the team and getting us this far.”
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