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Junior hockey

Bruins drop the puck

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On Sept. 19, two semi trucks arrived in the parking lot outside Glacier Ice Rink bearing a special delivery: aluminum bleachers, some assembly required. Rink Director Laura Henning felt relieved.

"Oh gosh, yes," she says.

The 143-feet-long bleachers, which can accommodate 600 people, will hopefully be set up just in time for the Junior Bruins' first home game of the season on Sept. 30. The new team formed in the wake of the Missoula Maulers being disbanded in May by their owner Michael Burks, who cited financial conflicts with the rink. Burks followed up by removing the rink's bleachers, which he'd had installed years before.

Henning says she'd been under the impression that the bleachers were a donation, but since none of the rink staff could find paperwork to prove it, she had to watch as Burks' workers spent two days removing them.

She then found out that replacement bleachers cost $100,000. But over the summer, the nonprofit rink raised $70,000 in donations, and Henning found a bleacher company out of Texas willing to put out a rush order and take payment in installments. The remaining $30,000 cost will likely be financed with a loan.

"It's fantastic that people supported us through the whole thing," Henning says.

As the Bruins gear up for their first season with many of the same players and the same head coach as the Maulers, Bruins co-owner Jason DiMatteo says he's finding as many bright sides as he can. For one thing, Burks removed little-used bleachers that sat on the second-floor mezzanine, clearing a space that will now be used for a Big Sky Brewing beer garden.

"That's one thing we're changing to make it a better experience for fans," DiMatteo says, "and separate families from the craziness of die-hard fans."

One of the biggest changes for the team itself is that it now belongs to the North American 3 Hockey League, which doesn't allow more than three non-American players. DiMatteo was delighted to recruit two Canadians, one of whom was born in the U.S. and is exempt from the rule.

"Yeah, we got an extra Canadian out of the deal. Wish we could have four or five of 'em," DiMatteo says. "But the three rule is to promote U.S. hockey, which has been overlooked for so many years."

The Bruins are also supported by a new booster club, called the Bruins Den, that offers members closer access to the team.

Club organizer Ted Moody says he's been a huge hockey fan for years and hopes the team can foster potential star players.

"I want to continue to see Missoula-area hockey continue to grow, which is why I wanted to help out so much," Moody says. "I feel hockey in Missoula is on the cusp of something big."

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