MISSOULA – A brand-new season started for the Missoula Bruins this past weekend, ready or not.
The junior hockey club is still waiting for the full roster to get together under new head coach Cliff Cook. Russian stars Misha Akatnov and Vadim Zubkov are still working through the visa process, and Alaskan Keith Zobel just wrapped up his summer job fighting wildfires.
When those three veterans and a few others arrive in Missoula, they’ll join a young squad with plenty of rookies. But being thrown to the fire short-handed in a 5-0 loss to Great Falls and a close 4-2 setback against Helena could speed up the Bruins’ development.
“It’s good. It pushes us. We can use the extra conditioning,” admitted forward Kyler Fullerton. “A lot of us aren’t used to this altitude. I think, day by day, we’re getting there.”
“I think we’re getting ready and getting more prepared for further on in the season,” added forward John Bannon. “I think we have a lot to come. There’s a lot of potential with us, a lot of growth that I think is going to happen here soon.”
“Without everybody here yet, you just don’t know what to expect,” said Cook. “We proved a lot in the opening weekend, even with the two losses. I think the guys showed that they’ve got a lot of heart, they’ve got a lot of grit, and even better than that, there’s a lot of talent.”
Cook has spent the past several years at the junior level, and he said the late arrival of players is common to this level. His first Bruins roster is made up of seven players from Montana, five from Alaska, two from Texas, two from Russia, and one each from Colorado, Missouri and Georgia.
The Bruins should have a few more guys ready to suit up by the time they play two more games at home this week. They’ll host the Butte Cobras on Friday night and the Bozeman Icedogs on Saturday night in the Glacier Ice Rink. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.