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Lace Up the Skates
Opportunities abound for hockey enthusiasts in the Flathead
U-19 girls hockey players sit on the ledge between the team benches and the ice before practice at Woodland Ice Center. | Flathead Beacon file photo
Local hockey enthusiasts have more opportunities than ever to experience the sport they love, whether it’s at one of the local rinks or on the vast sheets of natural ice that shine across the valley.

For those interested in the action, there is an array of organized options for all ages and abilities, including learn-to-skate programs and youth and adult leagues in Kalispell or Whitefish. For more information about activities and a schedule of ice time at Stumptown Ice Den in Whitefish, visit www.stumptowniceden.com. For information about the Woodland Ice Rink in Kalispell, visit www.flatheadflames.org.

There’s also the pond at Woodland Park and other frozen bodies of water, like Spencer Lake, that offer natural ice under the stars for fun pick-up games among friends.

Here are a few specific options to satisfy hockey enthusiasts in the Flathead.

Craft Brewers Cup Hockey Tournament and Brewfest
As organizers are saying, it’s time again to lace up the skates and cleanse the palate. The third edition of the increasingly popular Craft Brewers Cup and Brewfest is Jan. 24-25 at Woodland Park, in the heart of Kalispell.

The event will feature a competitive, two-day tournament atop the open-air ice rink and a robust beer festival featuring Montana microbreweries, including Tamarack, Great Northern, Blackfoot River and Big Sky. The brewfest begins at 2 p.m., Saturday. The $15 entry fee comes with a drink glass and includes the cost of your first three samples.

The puck drops Friday night with the initial games and continues Saturday throughout the day. Proceeds from the event support the Flathead Valley Hockey Association, which organizes youth programs, and its effort to buy an updated Zamboni machine for maintaining the ice. This year’s event will feature a few familiar celebrities on ice, including Lanny McDonald, a hall of famer who captained the Calgary Flames to a Stanley Cup victory in 1989; and Colin Patterson, another standout member and teammate of McDonald’s on the champion Flames team who played for 10 seasons in the NHL.

Team rosters must be turned in by Jan. 21 along with team pledge commitments. Teams are asked to collect pledges for the FVHA in lieu of traditional entry fees. The teams that raise the most pledge money will have the chance to draft either McDonald or Patterson onto their squad.

For more information visit craftbrewershockeyleague.com or call 406-314-2767.

Glacier Nationals Junior Hockey Team
In their third season, the Glacier Nationals are establishing themselves as a quality junior hockey franchise in the American West Hockey League. The Whitefish team, consisting of players between 15 and 20 years old from across the country, is in the thick of a playoff hunt, sitting in fourth place with only two months remaining in the regular season.

The Nationals (14-17 overall) are chasing first-place Helena (27-1), Great Falls (23-6) and Gillette (16-12). Glacier defeated Yellowstone 2-1 last Tuesday and edged out a shootout victory over Billings on Jan. 4. Chris Cutshall, a second-year player in Whitefish, has developed into one of the best in the AWHL. This season he’s notched 11 goals and 27 assists.

Fans have a few more opportunities to catch a hometown game at Stumptown Ice Den: Jan. 10, 24, 25, Feb. 8, 22, 28, and March 1. All games begin at 7 p.m. For more information, visit glaciernationals.com

Pond Hockey Classic
Montana’s first Pond Hockey Classic, slated for Feb. 21-23 atop frozen Foys Lake outside Kalispell, is quickly gathering teams from across the Pacific Northwest.

Twenty-nine squads have already registered for the outdoor tournament that’s being hailed as another signature event in the Flathead, similar to the popular Montana Dragon Boat Festival and Spartan Race.

The lineup of teams includes six from Canada and six from Washington. As of last week, the open division had the most entries with 10. The “Just for Fun Under 35” division had seven teams and the “Just for Fun Over 35” division had six teams. The 50 and older division and 40 and older division still need some more competition, with only one team signed up in each. The women’s division had three entries.

The tournament will be played in a four vs. four, round-robin format. Each team will play two games Friday, Feb. 21, and two games Saturday, Feb. 22, on the 150-foot x 75-foot sheet of natural ice. Qualifying teams will compete in playoff games on Sunday. In addition to the hockey action, activities on and off the ice will keep players and spectators entertained, including an appearance by the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

Lanny McDonald, a hall of famer and Stanley Cup champion who lives part-time in Lakeside, has helped promote the upcoming event across Canada and the U.S.

“Playing hockey outdoors, like I did growing up, takes you back to the beginning of the game. That’s why I’m proud to be a part of the growing pond hockey movement in the United States and Canada,” he said in an open invitation.

“The tournament will be Montana’s first major pond hockey tournament and one of the first in the Northwest United States.”

Players are encouraged to form teams of four to eight players, depending on the division in which they participate. Players must be at least 21 years of age to participate. The team registration fee is $500. Register at PondHockeyClassic.com/Montana.

Flathead Fusion High School Hockey Team
High school hockey players from across the valley teamed up this winter for the first time under the newly established Flathead Fusion program. It combined two previous teams that played separately in Whitefish and Kalispell as a way to bolster and unify rosters. Seventeen players are currently suited up for the Fusion, which is entering the finals months of the season playing against teams across the state.

“The kids are playing phenomenal with each other. They’re having a blast,” head coach Luke Knepper said. “Developmental is my biggest thing, to make sure the kids are out there and progressing, whether it be stick handling, shooting, passing, team building; the progression is my fundamental goal. The second one is that the kids have fun.”

The Fusion, which began playing games in November, are based primarily at the Woodland Ice Rink in Kalispell. The season ends with the state tournament in Billings.

“It was an interesting experience at first because everybody is new and there’s new guys to play with,” said team captain Mason McInnes. “But it’s working pretty well. We coalesce pretty well, which is great. I love all the guys.”

For more information on the Fusion, visit flatheadflames.org.
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