SHERIDAN — Before every home game, Mike Kocsis and Blake Billings run on the south side of Whitney Rink inside the M&M’s Center. As the players loosen up their legs, Billings takes the first shot with an old soccer ball at Kocsis who makes a hoop with his arms. The players reverse roles after a shot goes in. After Kocsis’ shot goes in, the duo runs to the other end and starts all over again.
Kocsis said there are nights where he and Billings hardly miss a shot. The pregame tradition started when Kocsis joined the team in January.
Head coach Andy Scheib said each player has their own routine prior to a game, such as taking a nap at a certain time of the day. Hockey players are superstitious and stick to a routine.
Kocsis said most players are tapping sticks or listening to music while he and Billings are shooting.
An hour before the puck drops, the Sheridan NA3HL Hawks come together as a team to stretch for 15-20 minutes, Sengheiser said.
The team syncs up and is all business once the stretching ends; their only focus is winning the game.
The Hawks hit the ice for a 15-minute warm-up. Scheib said he leaves the players to their own routine and checks on the team right before they take the ice. He does not want his presence to add any extra nerves to the players.
Once the puck drops, Sheridan is looking to find the back of the net first and take control of the game.
Scoring the first goal keeps the team positive and motivates players on the bench, Sengheiser said. The next lineup is ready to score the next goal. The Hawks can get on a roll after the first goal and build a solid lead.
Scheib said the team is not going to change anything about the way they play when they face the Great Falls Americans this week.
The Hawks are 5-1 against the Americans, winning two games in overtime and one in a shootout. Scheib said the games this week are going to come down to who wants it more.
The previous six games were during the regular season, now they faceoff in playoff action. The Hawks did not play last weekend, earning a bye week after finishing the regular season in second place of the Frontier Division.
Scheib hopes the team does not start flat after having a weekend off but has no idea what will happen because it is a playoff game. He knows the team is excited.
Sengheiser said the team is ready for the week and feeling confident in their abilities.
There were more emotions entering this week of practice, Kocsis said.
“We walked into the locker room and the boys are buzzing, listening to music and jamming out,” Kocsis said. “We are really pumped up to get this first game going.”
It is the best of three games series with the Americans with the first game being played in Great Falls, the second in Sheridan and if a third game is needed, Sheridan hosts once again.
Scheib said it will take a team effort to win the series but looks to the main scoring line of Logan Syrup, Kolton Wright and Billings to provide a spark for the team. The line needs to set the pace for the team and give them a strong start. Goaltender James Downie will also need to play well in the series, Scheib said.
Sengheiser said the Americans were an aggressive team and it will be a battle to be the first team to win two games.
The Hawks need to create scoring opportunities and dominate the first and final five minutes of each period.
Sheridan has home ice advantage.
“The fans are just bumping during the home games,” Kocsis said. “We are bumping in warm-ups, we feel good and the crowd is going. It just gets us going and on our feet. That is when we start buzzing and start rolling. It helps us out a lot.”
Sengheiser said when the game is not going their way, crowd chants or noise after a big hit helps lift the team up and improve their play.
Sheridan travels to Great Falls Wednesday to face the Americans at 7 p.m. The teams play in Sheridan 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday if the third game is needed.