Ice Rink Board Rejects Whitefish Junior Hockey Proposal

Members of the board could not be reached for comment

By Dillon Tabish

The board overseeing management of the Stumptown Ice Den rejected a request from the owner of the Glacier Nationals junior hockey team 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.

The Wolverines have disbanded and Kowalka wants to see the Nationals playing on their original home ice. Kowalka met 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.

The board is part of the Whitefish Sports Facilities Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that manages Whitefish’s lone ice rink, which is owned by the city.

Members of the board could not be reached for comment.

Kowalka said he submitted his original application to return to Whitefish in August. He said board members told him the rink was already heavily used and did not need an additional source of revenue.

“It didn’t matter what I said; they already had their minds made up,” Kowalka said. “We basically ran into a roadblock.”

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.

“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.

“I don’t feel like we were given a fair shake.”

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