Pond Hockey Tournament Enjoys Sunny Competition at Woodland Park

Sportsman Ski Haus team takes trophy at second annual event

By Dillon Tabish

Despite a last-minute shakeup, the pucks still dropped at the second annual Montana Pond Hockey Classic under sunny skies and favorable conditions in downtown Kalispell.

The three-day outdoor tournament, Feb. 20-22, featured 61 teams and more than 400 participants from across the U.S. and Canada. The local team sponsored by Sportsman & Ski Haus, made up of players from Kalispell and Whitefish, placed first in the competitive open division, winning the title game on Sunday and earning the coveted Monty Cup.

“It went well. The weather was great. The ice held up. The players had a good time. They had some positive things to say about the venue,” said Diane Medler with the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau, the chief organizer.

Medler said there was a significant drop in spectators at this year’s event and fewer teams stuck around before and after games despite food vendors in attendance. She attributed that to the lack of a beer garden, which was prohibited by the city council.

The event was abruptly relocated from Foys Lake to Woodland Park four days beforehand due to unseasonably warm weather that created potentially unsafe ice conditions. Medler approached the Kalispell City Council Feb. 17 seeking approval to use Woodland Park as the backup site, which was approved, but the council denied a request to serve beer at the tournament, prompting frustration and disappointment among organizers and sponsors.

Councilors voted 5-4 to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol at Woodland Park, citing Kalispell’s ordinance that deals with alcohol consumption on public property and requires three weeks notice through a permit application. Councilors Phil Guiffrida, Tim Kluesner, Chad Graham and Rod Kuntz voted to disallow alcohol consumption at the park and Mayor Mark Johnson cast the deciding vote. Councilors Jim Atkinson, Kari Gabriel, Sandy Carlson and Wayne Saverud voted in favor of allowing beer at the event.

“I’m a proponent of things that support the economy. But we set specific rules within that ordinance and that municipal code, and one of the rules is that the application must be submitted in a timely fashion for review,” Guiffrida, the councilor who proposed the amendment prohibiting alcohol at the event, told the Beacon.

“I’m absolutely against variances, because then the council is picking winners and losers. That’s dangerous.”

The decision sparked outcry from one of the event’s main sponsors, Tamarack Brewing Company, and disappointment among organizers.

“They really missed an opportunity to highlight what the city of Kalispell can do. I don’t think this puts Kalispell in a very positive light for tourism,” said Josh Townsley, owner of Tamarack Brewing Company, a partner of the pond hockey tournament that served beers at last year’s inaugural event.

“This absolutely hurts tourism dollars and opportunity, and it’s frustrating that the city is willing to alienate a large segment of tourists.”

Medler said she received positive reviews about Woodland Park. Organizers are in the process of surveying players to gather feedback before determining any plans for potential future events.