Growing Pains Emerge for Nationals

By Beacon Staff

Being the youngest team in the division, if not the country, has presented a few challenges for the upstart Glacier Nationals hockey team.

Playing focused and disciplined for all 60 minutes; matching up against older, bigger opponents; and having a desperation to win — these are the characteristics owner Butch Kowalka and the Nationals staff are still trying to instill in the first-year program based in Whitefish.

With 13 players still in high school and a ton of rookies, Glacier has had an uphill battle this winter. The newest Tier III Junior-A expansion team in the Northern Pacific Hockey League (NORPAC) is nearing the midway point of the 42-game season with a 3-15 record. But the club’s owner still thinks everything is on the right track, with recent physical play and a strong team chemistry emerging.

“It’s been a learning curve,” Kowalka said. “We were shooting to be good come Christmas time and I think we’re just about there.”

The Nationals have shown signs of progress – like beating the division champs on the road – but have failed to find consistency.

And despite the hard reality that this season has posed, the team has stuck together and on occasion has played opponents closer than most would expect, Kowalka said.

“For a team that’s lost 15 games we should be at each other’s throats, but the boys are really getting along well,” he said. “That’s a real positive sign for the coaching staff.”

There have been a few other positive signs this season that have Kowalka upbeat.

The team beat Seattle, the defending division champ, 5-2 in just the second game of the season. It was the first time since early last season that a team beat the Totems at home, according to the team website.

Glacier won its first home game at Stumptown Ice Den on Oct. 21 after 18-year-old rookie center Keenan Ural earned a hat trick, scoring three goals against third-place Vancouver. The Nationals won 7-5.

Cody Albert, who had two goals in the Vancouver win, leads the team in goal-scoring with nine. The 18-year-old forward from Portland, Ore., has 14 points in 18 games. Another 18-year-old forward from Portland, Austin Givens, leads the team in total points with 17. He has scored eight goals and dished out nine assists.

Eighteen-year-old goalie Tanor Bradison, from Anchorage, Alaska, has logged the most minutes in the net and has 376 saves (87 percent) in 12 games.

Seventeen-year-old Havre native Danny Roe has emerged as a team leader and was recently voted assistant captain. Roe has a goal and three assists.

The Nationals need to finish in the top six to earn a playoff seed. Currently, Southern Oregon (16-7-0) leads the NORPAC and Seattle (13-2-2) trails in second. Vancouver (10-9-1) is third; Yellowstone (9-9-2) is fourth; Eugene (9-8-0) is fifth; West Sound (8-9-0) is sixth.

Glacier has a three-game home stand from Dec. 9-11, hosting the Yellowstone Quake from Cody, Wyo. The Nationals then return home Jan. 12 for six straight games.

“We might be struggling to get wins right now but we’re still playing well as a group,” Kowalka said. “If we can find a way to put wins together and grow as a team we will be looking good.”

For up-to-date stats and standings on the Nationals, visit www.glaciernationals.com.