This weekend was the 11th annual Flying Mules Hockey Tournament in Missoula, Montana. The Flathead Valley may not have ever been more represented at an adult sporting event, sending 6 teams, and almost 80 players to compete. One “Open” level men’s team, two women’s teams and three intermediate level men’s teams looked to build on their successes from the previous year. Last year five teams attended the tournament, and took first in women’s A/B, first in women’s C, and first and second in the Men’s Intermediate.
But it was quickly apparent Whitefish would need some luck after the first night was in the books. The opening game in the intermediate featured the Kalispell Storm vs. the Whitefish Ice. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, and set a tone for the rest of the day. All in all, the Whitefish Fog (men’s Intermediate), Whitefish Wailers (Women’s A/B), Whitefish Mudpuppies (Women’s C) as well as the Ice & Storm posted ties in their first contests. The ‘Flathead’ Open team lost their first game, and losses became the trend that followed next.
By mid-day Saturday, Flathead teams had zero wins, four losses and five ties. The first glimmer of hope came when the Storm took on the Busdrivers from McCall, Idaho, and squeaked out a 3-2 victory. The Mudpuppies won next, the Ice tied again and the Fog won their later game. The Storm then caught fire and destroyed the Billings Hooligans 9-1, and became the first team to qualify for a championship game.
A secondary theme of the weekend became the battle of attrition. In game one for the Fog, Mike Carey took a nasty high stick to the nose, resulting in a cut and black eye. He was able to continue. The Open team was not so lucky. Bobby Purvis suffered a concussion in their second game when thrown to the ground by an opposing forward. Jason Rascoe missed a game with a pulled groin, and the team lost a third player when Joe went hard into the board and tweaked his ankle. Other teams lost numerous players to “flu-like symptoms”. As the night wore on, entire games were lost to “flu-like symptoms”.
When the dust cleared, two teams, the Storm, and the Wailers had made the finals in their respective brackets.
Sunday’s action started at 7:00am. The Ice were awarded a forfeit against McCall, who had only three players there at game time (the rest of the team was either suffering from flu-like symptoms, or arrest). The Open team lost their forth game of their weekend at 9:00am. The Mudpuppies lost their third place game to McCall. The Fog were up 3-1 with four minutes to go, but gave up three unnaswered and lost the third place game to the Billings Hooligans. Then finally the Wailers lost the Women’s A/B Championship game to the Missoula Icy Hot. But there had to be a bright spot somewhere on the horizon, or why would I be writing this article?
The bright spot arrived at 2:45pm, when the Kalispell Storm took on the Missoula Woodpeckers in the intermediate division finals. To understand the significance of this game, you’d have to look at the history between the Woodpeckers and the collective Flathead Valley teams. The Woodpeckers were on a 3-0 run, when meeting Flathead teams in the finals. At the Halloween tournament in Missoula in 2010, the magnificent team, “Le Pamplemousse!?”, a team that included Storm captain Jim Barone, the Woodpeckers overcame a 4-2 third period deficit to win 7-4. The following spring at the Garden City Shootout, the Woodpeckers faced the Whitefish Ice in the finals. Jim Barone was also playing with the Ice, who hung with the Woodpeckers all the way through, forcing them to double overtime, before succombing to a wrap-around goal that ended the game with the Woodpeckers on top. Then this past Halloween, Barone’s Storm team did not make the finals, but Le Pamplemousse?! once again played for the title against the Peckers, and lost 4-2, despite once again leading in the 3rd period. In short, the Woodpeckers had OWNED the Flathead Valley in important games.
It should be said that Jim Barone had also never won a tournament. In the past few years he brought or played on teams in three annual tournaments in Missoula, as well as tournaments in Butte, Helena, Bozeman, Whitefish and Great Falls. Barone has been a tireless worker for our hockey community since he climbed his way up through the ranks of C league in 2008. The Storm team he brought Missoula was one of the best he’s assembled. They are young, fast, physical and simply wear teams out. Many or most of the players are self taught pond-hockey style players that did not grow up skating circles for coaches. The team truly fits the Intermediate bracket. Intermediate teams are allowed three “A” level players (defined as having Junior, college or professional experience). Barone’s squad had only one true “A”, Whitefish’s own Kyle Hackett. The Woodpeckers squad by comparison had arguably 5 or 6 players who should be considered “A” level, and have no problem with shortening their bench to wage late game heroics.
The game lived up to expectations. The scoreboard read 1-1 after the first period, 1-1 after the second. Storm goalie Nathan Tillinghast traded save after save with the Woodpecker’s goalie. As the third period wore on, the Woodpeckers big guns seemed to spend more and more time on the ice. Every time it looked like they were going to take charge, a Storm player would get that last poke check, or do just enough to keep the high percentage shots away. The Woodpeckers were baffled over and over again. Then, a few minutes into the third a Storm slap-shot was tipped into the net, and the Storm were in control. For the rest of the way in, every time the Woodpeckers upped the intensity, the Storm answered. Inside the last minute the Woodpeckers loaded up, pulled their goalie, and then promptly let Randy Schmeusser get free to close the door with an open-netter. The game ended 3-1 the Storm on top.
They came home with the Golden Stick. This is the second year in a row that one of the Stumptown Ice Den’s home teams have brought home the Golden Stick in the Intermediate division at the Flying Mules. The Fog won it all last year. Whitefish men’s or women’s teams have won at least one division in each of the last six years of the tourney.
|Kalispell Storm||Men’s Int.||3||0||1||1/8|
|Whitefish Fog||Men’s Int.||1||2||1||4/8|
|Whitefish Ice||Men’s Int.||1||1||2||7/8|
|Whitefish Wailers||Women’s A/B||1||2||1||2/4|
|Whitefish Mudpuppies||Women’s C||1||2||1||4/6|
The Flathead teams will return to the Flying Mules again next year.