Jan 24, 2013 11:33 AM by Laura Wilson - KAJ Sports
WHITEFISH - They were the only junior hockey team in the NORPAC not to advance to the playoffs last season, but now, teams are looking up at them in the standings.
Reporter Laura Wilson caught up with the Glacier Nationals to find out how our Athletes of the Week plan to earn their club's first ever playoff berth.
It was a rough start for the Glacier Nationals during their inaugural 2011-2012 season, winning just six games.
"As a start-up team last year with recruiting, everything was brand new. The whole process - the team and the community was new. The first year, the most asked question was ‘who are you again?' We're not having that problem anymore, which is good," Glacier General Manager Butch Kawalka recalled.
It may be a new program, but the popularity of the Glacier Nationals is growing quickly, thanks in part to the organization's reputation within the hockey community. At one point this season, Kawalka says 30 recruits were willing to commit to the club.
"I heard about their record last year and how it went, but I had multiple friends who played on the team last year. They loved it. They said they didn't win very much, but they learned a lot," Chris Cutshall said.
Thanks to seven returning players from last year's roster, the team says their team camaraderie is better, along with their speed, talent and consistency on the ice.
"We've won 14 games so far. That's over twice what we won last year already, with plenty more games to go. So, we're very optimistic about our playoff and potential chance to go to Nationals. Players are more willing to come from out of the area and play for our team," Kawalka said.
The National's fan base has increased as well this season along with the wins.
"You can see there's a lot of people from last year that have jerseys now. They're really big supporters. It's nice," forward Danny Roe, who's from Kalispell, said.
"I've come to all the games since they first started. I've watched them improve and they're skating as a team. The last two games were great. They skated so well. They won and it was so exciting," fan Carol Anderson told us.
The Glacier Nationals are sitting in third place in the NORPAC. But with more than a month to go in the season, and only four playoff spots open-their postseason picture is uncertain at this point.
"Getting enough wins to get into the playoffs would be big for this organization. Every loss now is critical," Roe observed.
This weekend is no exception, as they'll host the second place Eugene Generals over the weekend.
The Nationals are playing NORPAC and AWHL teams this year, kind of sharing time between the two leagues. But all of their games count towards their record in the NORPAC.