The owner of the Glacier Nationals junior hockey team would like to bring the club back to Whitefish where it started.
Butch Kowalka, a Flathead Valley resident, founded the Nationals in 2011 as a Tier III Junior-A expansion program in the Northern Pacific Hockey League. In 2014, the Whitefish Wolverines formed as a separate club and effectively forced the Nationals out of town. The Nationals signed a three-year contract with the Havre Youth Hockey Association.
Now, the Wolverines have disbanded and Kowalka would like to see the Nationals playing on their original home ice. Kowalka will meet with the Stumptown Ice Den board on Jan. 12 to discuss the pitch, which he says would benefit the local facility and community.
“We didn’t want to leave when we did. We want to move back and move forward,” Kowalka said.
In Havre, the hockey rink has averaged $20,000 a year in profits through the hockey team, Kowalka said, while players have contributed to community service projects and used the opportunity to move on to the college ranks. Games have averaged crowds of roughly 400 people per game in recent years, he said.
He said he has submitted a proposal to the Whitefish Ice Den to re-establish the junior hockey program where it started.
“Whitefish could really benefit from having a junior team,” said Kowalka, whose family still lives in the Flathead Valley while he commutes back and forth between Havre during the hockey season.
The Whitefish Sports Facilities Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit, manages Whitefish’s one and only ice rink, which is owned by the city.