WHITEFISH — When you take a collection of high school hockey players from across Northwest Montana and send them out on the same sheet of ice, what do you get? The Flathead Fusion, a talented team of teenagers that is one of the best in Montana.
In its fourth year as a program and past the halfway point of its latest conference season, the Fusion are ranked second in the 10-team Montana Amateur Hockey Association. Flathead is 10-3 overall and riding a seven-game win streak. Missoula (14-0) is first in the league, Billings (9-0-1) is third, and Butte (7-2) is fourth.
“When we come to play, we can play with anybody,” second-year head coach Alex Lundbohm said.
Hockey is not sanctioned by the Montana High School Association, but that isn’t stopping it from spreading across the state and gaining popularity. Four years ago, the Fusion were organized through a joint effort between the Flathead Valley Hockey Association in Kalispell and the Glacier Hockey Association in Whitefish. The Whitefish-based program features a varsity team for ninth- through 12th-graders from across Northwest Montana. This year’s team of nearly 20 players has athletes from everywhere between Bigfork and Eureka.
Last year’s squad advanced to the Class A state tournament after winning an exciting two-game series in Butte that qualified the Flathead for the six-team postseason. The four teams that don’t advance to the A tournament qualify for the Class B state tournament.
This year’s squad, despite losing five seniors, is back with more experience, skill and — perhaps most noteworthy — determination.
“Since last year, we’ve seen how hard we will have to work to succeed, and that’s what has brought this team together,” said Keaden Morisaki, a third-year forward and co-captain from Kalispell.
“We’ve worked really hard over the summer and our skill level is a lot better than it was last year,” said Paul Harms, another third-year co-captain and defender from Kalispell.
The Fusion picked up two big confidence boosts early in the season by beating defending state champ and national qualifier Bozeman. Flathead won 5-1 in both contests. Last weekend, the local squad trounced Havre 11-4 and 10-0.
For the season, Logan Hill leads the team in goals with 13, along with 10 assists. Morisaki and Lincoln Jones have eight goals and 12 assists apiece. John Savage has five goals and 10 assists.
“When we play as a team, that’s when we play our best,” Lundbohm said. “Everybody on this team contributes and knows their role.”
Seven players have scored five goals or more, and nine players have five or more assists.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth in one year,” Lundbohm said.
The Fusion’s goals are simple: advance to the state tournament and go as far as possible. An added incentive, the Class A state tournament will be held in Whitefish this year on March 3-5. The top six teams in the regular-season standings advance to the tournament.
“If we work hard enough and keep up the intensity, we can achieve our goal,” Morisaki said.
The team to beat is Missoula, which has a well-established identity as a strong hockey hub in Montana. But players and coaches see the Flathead Valley following suit and building its own solid foundation.
“There’s a lot of people putting in a lot of effort to try to make hockey an established sport in the valley,” Lundbohm said. “To be a part of that and to watch it grow is exciting.”
Remaining Home Games
At Whitefish Ice Den
Sat., Jan. 28 Butte Copper Kings, 6:30 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 29 Butte Copper Kings, 11 a.m.
Fri., Feb. 24 Missoula Bruins, 9:15 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 25 Missoula Bruins, 7 a.m.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.