On New Year’s Eve, alpenglow illuminated the mountains to the east with a rosy, glowing band as the Wild convened in Kalispell to attend the Flathead Valley Hockey Association’s Girls’ U19 Outdoor Winter Classic Jamboree, January 1st through 4th, 2015. The Wild U19 team found themselves in the same division as Montana teams from Glasgow, Kalispell, Missoula, Whitefish, and one team each from Salmon, ID and Lethbridge, AB. The warmest game-time temperature was 18ºF; the coldest was -10ºF with wind chill. Thankfully, the outdoor rink boasts heated locker rooms, and the tournament organizer kindly and wisely provided a case of hand warmers for each game.
A snow globe is a transparent sphere enclosing a miniaturized scene of some sort, often together with a model of a landscape. ‘The Snow Globe’ is what the locals nicknamed the Woodland Ice Center outdoor ice rink in Kalispell. Nestled in the tall evergreens of Woodland Park, the rink echoed with the shouts of midget female players and their fans. Players warmed up on the adjacent frozen pond, and pond hockey scrimmages erupted between family members. Gallons of steaming, hot chocolate were consumed while standing around the bonfire outside one end of the rink between periods. Like penguins, family members huddled for warmth around the propane heaters strategically placed around the perimeter of the rink. A Kalispell volunteer shared that, last winter, a propane torch was accidentally pushed such that it touched the glass; the panel shattered loudly from the temperature differential.
Each team played 4 tournament games. In game one, the Wild systematically dismantled host Kalispell with a 7-2 win. In the next game, the Wild defeated neighboring Whitefish 3-2. Prior to the following game, the valves on the Zamboni froze, prompting a small army of parent volunteers to come to the rescue. With shovels and sheets of plywood, they methodically removed rapidly accumulating snow from the surface. The third game proved to be very challenging as Washington played Missoula--roughly half a dozen of their players are also members of the Montana Big Sky Wildcats Select Tier II team. The Wild gave their full effort and finished with a 1-4 loss. The final game vs. Salmon was hard fought. Tied 1-1 after first period, the Wild found themselves down 3-2 with only a few minutes left in the third. A lucky late fourth goal by Salmon was followed by an empty net goal, resulting in a 2-5 loss. The Wild left the tournament with a respectable 2-2 record.
Kalispell is the gateway to Glacier National Park, and is located seven miles north of Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the continental US west of the Mississippi. Opportunities to see wildlife abounded. During non-hockey time in Montana, Wild members and families explored the surrounding area, admired the scenery, and spent money at Cabela’s for toe warmers and heated foot beds, balaclavas and heavy duty gloves. Team members celebrated the holiday season with a Secret Santa gift exchange, games and a pizza party. Despite the 525 mile drive home taking 11 hours thanks to a warm winter storm that dumped snow, sleet and rain all over the Northwest, Wild players loved the experience and want to repeat it next year. When asked what they enjoyed most, they overwhelmingly said ‘the pond and the snow”. They loved playing outdoors against new opponents. The teamwork and camaraderie engendered by the crowded, cheerful locker rooms: priceless.