BILLINGS — Montana and Williston State decided to meet in the middle on Wednesday afternoon, as the hockey programs for the Griz and Tetons met up in Billings at Centennial Ice Arena.
Hockey isn’t king in Montana like it may be in neighboring states like North Dakota and Minnesota, and without school-sanctioned teams it can be quite a challenge to break into the sport growing up.
“The biggest thing was just cost in Montana. It's expensive because it's a club sport and you aren't getting school funding, so that was the main thing that was holding me and others that want to play hockey in Montana back," said Griz senior forward Dan Liner, a native of Missoula.
“I was lucky enough to play at one of the better facilities in Colorado when I lived there, then I moved to Minnesota and it's huge there," Montana junior forward Jackson Knutsen said. "My home rink in Colorado we had three sheets of ice, so there was never really a struggle for ice time and it was open year round."
Cost is certainly among the top concerns. For instance, hockey sticks run about $150 a pop and they aren’t indestructible. Travel, though, is also a potential roadblock for Montanans, as club teams would travel across state to play.
“I'm thankful for my parents. They've always drug me around everywhere, taking me to practice at 5 in the morning, taking me all across the state like Glasgow and Havre," said Alex Neibauer, a Montana freshman defenseman from Missoula. "Big commitment from them helping me get to where I was, so I'm thankful for that."
There was a good crowd on hand Wednesday afternoon, and even the Montana guys feel like hockey is starting to take hold in the Treasure State.
“People all around the state will come out to watch the Griz and Cats, but for the hockey community it's great to see people come out and support at the college level, too," Liner said.
The Griz won Wednesday’s game against Williston State 9-3.