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Hockeytown, Montana – Flathead Beacon

Hockeytown, Montana - Flathead Beacon

The Flathead Valley has lengthy been a well-liked trip vacation spot for Canadian vacationers seeking a fast and straightforward getaway, and the appreciation our neighbors to the north have of this valley, notably Whitefish, has finished wonders for many who name Northwest Montana residence.

Canadians increase the valley’s financial system, inject overseas tradition and customs into the mainstream, and strengthen the connection between the 2 lengthy-allied nations. And with out giving an excessive amount of credence to drained clichés, Canadians have introduced their nationwide sporting pastime with them, too.

It began for Murray Craven as an toddler, when the Alberta native would repeatedly cross the border together with his household for a Whitefish respite. The place made such an impression on Craven that when he was within the throes of an extended NHL profession he settled on Whitefish as his offseason house within the early 1990s, returning after every grueling hockey season to take pleasure in Northwest Montana’s splendorous summers. When his enjoying profession ended within the early 2000s after 18 years and greater than 1,000 video games, he and his household made Whitefish their yr-spherical house, and Craven appeared for a approach to keep concerned within the sport he — and most each different Canadian — had been enjoying since he was sufficiently old to stroll.

“The game had given me so much in my life,” Craven stated. “It was really payback for me to give something back to the game.”

To try this, Craven joined forces with the nascent Glacier Hockey Affiliation, on the time a grassroots assortment of hockey fanatics and their households who have been occupying only a tiny sliver of the native sports activities consciousness. Once they weren’t enjoying grownup-league video games on an outside Whitefish rink, dodging snowflakes and preventing frigid circumstances, Whitefish’s hockey trustworthy had began the GHA, a youth program scratching by with simply sufficient gamers (principally the youngsters of grownup-league members) to fill out rosters at its numerous age ranges.

Craven would shortly grow to be the president of the younger program and for greater than a decade he and his spouse, Sheri, and a small group of different volunteers would take the GHA on a prolonged journey to what it has develop into immediately — one of many largest and most profitable youth hockey packages within the state, with dozens of volunteers, a whole lot of gamers, a yr-spherical rink to play in and a rising variety of championship banners lining the partitions.

Glacier Hockey Affiliation Government Director Ryan Ulvin, proper, coaches U-10 gamers on the Stumptown Ice Den in Whitefish on Oct. 2, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Those that have adopted Craven on the helm of the Glacier Hockey Affiliation converse glowingly of the person they credit score for a lot of this system’s present success. Craven, who immediately is the senior vice chairman of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, is much less prepared to take credit score for hockey’s progress in Whitefish.

“It was really just to take what had already been established and continue to grow it,” Craven stated. “Really it was just a progression; I don’t want to take credit for starting Glacier Hockey, if anything I helped continue the work others got started and helped build it to the point where it is now.”

Colby Shaw, who adopted Craven as GHA president, and Clint Muhlfeld, who changed Shaw earlier this yr, are a bit extra forthcoming with reward for the ex-NHL star.

“Nobody’s going to question somebody that had a (long) hockey career,” Shaw stated. “So his reputation kind of precedes him; that this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s been involved in youth hockey and his expertise in knowing what hockey was about and what his program needs to be set GHA in the right direction.”

To listen to Muhlfeld and Shaw inform it, Murray and Sheri Craven singlehandedly stored the GHA afloat within the early days, donating their experience, time and helpful gear to the trigger. Craven was instrumental in getting the GHA accepted into the East Kootenay Minor Hockey League, a extremely aggressive assortment of primarily Canadian squads, all of whom permit for a lot simpler journey for GHA groups than, say, driving over mountain passes to locations like Billings in the course of the winter months, though GHA groups do additionally compete within the Montana Novice Hockey Affiliation.

“We’re the only team in the state that is able to play in two divisions,” Shaw stated. “Murray and his wife, Sheri, at the time they basically managed everything … They were the equivalent of a board of five or six people.”

Shaw grew up within the Flathead Valley however not as a hockey participant, as an alternative competing for the Kalispell Lakers baseball staff and enjoying soccer properly sufficient to earn a spot at Carroll School after he graduated from highschool. When he moved again house, Shaw took up hockey for the primary time and remembers enjoying video games in lower than ultimate circumstances throughout tough Montana winters. So when he turned the GHA’s president in 2014, one of many prime gadgets on his agenda was to completely enclose the rink at Stumptown Ice Den to permit for hockey and different ice sports activities to be performed by means of the summer time.

“When I came on, the rink would open up, basically, in September and would shut down by April,” Shaw stated. “The Whitefish community is such a great destination for the summer, (so) if we can keep the rink open we will get more people on the ice.”

Shaw teamed with the Glacier Skate Academy, a determine-skating program, and after some bureaucratic wrangling they satisfied the Whitefish Metropolis Council to approve plans to maintain the Ice Den open all yr in 2015. Within the time since, the rink has grow to be a hotbed for exercise, with the GHA increasing its choices, designated stick-and-puck occasions offered by the rink’s administration for kids to hone their expertise, the grownup league’s continued progress in measurement and scope, now with A, B and C ranges, and out of doors organizations holding camps and clinics in the summertime months.

“Anytime I go by that rink and there’s any kind of program with kids, there’s 30-plus kids on the ice,” Shaw stated. “It’s exactly like ‘Field of Dreams,’ if you build it they will come. We’re one of the only rinks to have year-round ice, so we’re going to be a destination place for people who want year-round ice.”

Glacier Hockey Affiliation U-10 gamers follow on the Stumptown Ice Den in Whitefish on Oct. 2, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Muhlfeld, an East Coast native with robust hockey roots, has already overseen extra vital change in 2018. Ryan Ulvin was introduced on because the GHA’s first-ever government director alongside Muhlfed, and the 2 have helped launch the brand new home-league Yeti program for younger hockey gamers within the Flathead Valley.

Yeti is simply the subsequent evolution for the GHA, an opportunity for its youngest gamers to get a style of the sport with out having to journey any farther than Kalispell. A collaboration with the Kalispell-based mostly Flathead Valley Hockey Affiliation, the Yeti league is for gamers 10 and beneath who will play video games towards each other at each the Stumptown Ice Den and Woodland Park in Kalispell throughout two eight-week periods, one starting this month and one other in January.

The league gives a chance for gamers of any talent degree to benefit from the recreation of hockey with a restricted time dedication and restricted expense, the inspiration of a pyramid that Muhlfeld makes use of to elucidate how the GHA will proceed to develop. The extra alternatives for younger gamers to be concerned within the sport, and the extra enjoyable they’ve from an early age, the extra possible they’re to stay with the sport and excel as they get older, Muhlfeld believes.

“I think it all kind of goes hand-in-hand,” Ulvin added. “The priority of the GHA should be (growing the game of hockey), and once you get the hooks in we can provide higher-caliber opportunities.”

The GHA fields groups at quite a lot of totally different age and talent ranges, up by way of highschool, for each girls and boys, and a joint Kalispell-Whitefish program, the Flathead Fusion, provides a chance for top schoolers. And whereas enjoyable continues to be the main target for all ranges of the GHA, groups at all ages degree have gained league championships in recent times, and a handful of former gamers have gone on to realize nice success past Whitefish, together with Jake Sanderson, a member of the U.S. Nationwide Beneath-17 workforce who just lately dedicated to play hockey on the College of North Dakota.

“I think our quality coaching is really a main reason (for our success),” Muhlfeld stated. “We’ve got a lot of experienced folks, people that love the game and want to give back.”

Muhlfeld credited Craven for establishing a baseline from which the GHA might construct, and for his half Craven continues to be holding a watchful eye on hockey in his adopted hometown, whilst he embarks on an identical undertaking as president of the Vegas Junior Golden Knights, a brand new youth hockey program.

“I’m thrilled,” Craven stated when requested what he considered the GHA immediately. “I would have hated to have left after the 10 or 12 years that I was there and see it fall apart. I think we left it in good hands and the stewardship is there to help grow the programs … It’s near and dear to my heart and that will never change.”

Participation within the Glacier Hockey Affiliation is open to residents from all through Northwest Montana, and signups are nonetheless being accepted for this season. For extra info on the GHA, go to

[email protected]

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