Skip to main content
column

Golden Knights' arrival could help turn Montana into 'hockey state'

Latest stop in Vegas caravan draws more than 200 to Ressler Motors Ice Rink

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Julie Keck didn't know what to expect. The Vegas Golden Knights Road Trip was coming to town to stage a street-hockey clinic, but most of Bozeman's diehard players and their families were in Billings, Montana, for a camp that had been planned months ago.

Keck, the operations director of the Bozeman Amateur Hockey Association (BAHA), figured anywhere between 20 and 200 people would show up.

Then the Golden Knights bus rolled up to the Ressler Motors Ice Rink at the Ice Barn on Friday morning. The staffers inflated a huge jersey by the front door, carried in equipment, posted logos and hung a banner.

And then 20 people showed up.

And then 20 more. 

And then 20 more.

Each child who registered to participate received a Golden Knights T-shirt and a street hockey stick. By the time the event started, the team had given away more than 100 sticks. Counting the parents, there were more than 200 people there.

"Obviously, there's more out there that are diehards and were interested in finding out something about the Golden Knights," Keck said.

 

[RELATED: Golden Knights Road Trip Blog]

 

Owner Bill Foley wants to make the Golden Knights the team of the Rocky Mountain range, and their local television territory includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and parts of California and Arizona. They won't be able to reach out to those areas once their inaugural season starts, so they're doing it now with a bus tour and special events.

"The people that aren't from Montana that came from somewhere else, they probably have a team that they associate with that's from back home," Keck said. "But I'm a Montanan and I don't have any sports teams that I associate myself with.

"I mean, this could be exactly the nudge they need one way or the other, not to mention that the plane flights are so cheap to get to Vegas."

Beyond helping grow the Golden Knights brand, this helps grow the game.

BAHA has 700 adults and 250 children, but there is so much demand for ice time that the Ice Barn has gone from one sheet to two.

The first sheet has ice from the beginning of October to the end of April, when the county starts using it for events in the summer, and it's booked solid from 6 a.m. to midnight each day, Keck said.

The second sheet opened in January.

"When we build a rink, it's full," said Anna Greenberg, development director of the Gallatin Ice Foundation.

Watch: Youtube Video

The second sheet is only through Phase Two. There is a roof, boards and glass, but there is no insulation and no spectator seating, and no permanent locker rooms. BAHA and the Gallatin Ice Foundation are raising money to complete it and have ice year-round.

At a fundraiser in March, an adult team auctioned two tickets to a Golden Knights game and two plane tickets to Las Vegas. The package went for $4,010.

Next to the Golden Knights merchandise table Friday, there was a table for the Gallatin Ice Foundation with a signup sheet and a sign telling people how they could help. For more information, log onto gallatinicefoundation.org.

Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt was supposed to appear Friday, but sustained an ankle injury training Thursday and couldn't make it. He recorded a video message for the fans.

"I'm really bummed I couldn't be there today," he said. "I just wanted to send you my best. Have fun out there."

Wearing their Golden Knights T-shirts, boys and girls passed orange NHL street-hockey balls to each other with their free sticks. They stickhandled around cones and took shots. When it was over, they walked past the huge Golden Knights jersey and the Golden Knights bus.

"Montana's not really a hockey state," Keck said, "and it's become more of a hockey state."

Maybe a little more after this.

View More