Any resemblance between the Glacier Hockey League during its inaugural 1996-97 season and the GHL of 2012-13 is pure coincidence.
When the GHL first commenced play, the Montana league had a mere six teams and played on an outdoor rink in Playfair Park that was run by the Missoula Parks and Recreation Department.
The GHL moved “indoors” the following season — into the Glacier Ice Rink.
These days the GHL consists of 70 teams that play during the winter season and 20 teams that play in the spring and fall leagues.
According to GHL commissioner Traver McLeod, 1,200 players are registered with USA Hockey for the overall three seasons.
Having access to the Glacier Ice Rink can’t be underestimated.
“As soon as we were able to be under cover, it helped us create a Novice Adult League,” McLeod said. “So many adults ended up playing that it contributed to our growth with new players playing hockey.
“The other large growth area occurred when we got a second sheet of ice for the 2005-06 season, which made the GIR the only facility in [Montana] with two sheets of ice.”
Having nine divisions ensures there’s a place for everybody regardless of skill level.
In descending order, the GHL consists of the Cup Division, the Advanced Division, the Competitive Division, the Intermediate Division, the Novice Division, the Hang Loose plus-35 A Division, the Hang Loose plus-35 B Division, the Advanced Women’s Division and the Intermediate Women’s Division.
As a partial means of explanation, the Cup Division is for players who have very competitive skills and who like playing the game for fun but with the intensity they have always enjoyed.
The Hang Loose plus-35 B Division is for novice/intermediate players that are looking for the chance to play a second night in a plus-35 age division.
The Novice Division, as the name implies, is for entry-level players that would like to learn the game and have fun.
“Another reason for our growth is we’ve found places for people to play,” McLeod said. “We enable people to play with their buddies. If a guy is a Cup level guy, he can drop down and play with his buddies.
“We have individual signups where you can get placed on teams that are conducive to new players coming to town, and they don’t have to fight that ‘old-boy system’ where they say ‘I don’t know anybody.’ We always find a place for them to play.”
According to McLeod, the Novice Division has seen the most growth. It’s a division that promotes into the Intermediate Division, which then morphs into the Competitive Division.
“A lot of professional people like doctors and lawyers come into the league and recruit their friends,” McLeod said. “The University of Montana brings in people from all over the country and fills in the Cup Division. The university brings in some good hockey talent to our town.
“A lot of university professors play in our league.”
Another key aspect of the GHL is its participation in the annual Community Cup Hockey Benefit Tournament that has been held during the Thanksgiving holiday since 2011. The tournament is open to men and women and all proceeds go to the Community Medical Center’s Oncology Center.
The prime mover in getting this tournament on ice was Tim Richards, who’s on staff at the city’s two hospitals.
“Dr. Richards plays in the Novice League,” McLeod said. “He’s probably recruited close to 50 players in the last five or six years and is a member of our board of governors.
“He wanted to come up with an idea that suited his interests. It’s been a good thing for the community and the CMC.”
During his 12 years in the military, Richards was deployed both in Operation Desert Storm and in Yugoslavia, where he treated battlefield casualties.
After he fulfilled his military obligations, he moved to Missoula to practice general surgery and has served the community for more than 10 years at both the CMC and St. Patrick’s Hospital.
“In our Novice Division, there’s a big rivalry between CMC and Rocky Mountain Surgical Solutions,” McLeod said. “Because it’s held on Thanksgiving weekend, it allows families to get out there.”
Also worth noting is the fact the GHL is a non-checking league.
“The sport comes with some injuries but for the most part, the GHL keeps a close watch on this,” McLeod said. “Play is competitive, but it’s not so much over the top that people don’t want to come out and thus get turned off year after year by people who are overly aggressive.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.