Missoula Maulers Enjoying First Season in New League
The Missoula Maulers, playing their first season in the Western States Hockey League, didn't have a record they were happy about to start the season which the team contributes to having fewer games than other teams, and not being able to get into a rhythm.
"First half of the season was a bit slow. We didn't get many games in, and it was hard for us to get rolling, but I think second half we'll have a lot of games, and get rolling and do well," says defender Joey Porco.
With the new league, instead of traveling mostly just in Montana, this season the Maulers travel to Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and even Arizona, meaning more time on the road.
"We're taking trips to Medford Oregon, and Salt Lake City, and it's not a three hour bus ride, and going in and playing anymore. There's a lot more preparation that has to go into that for our group," explains head coach Marcus Baxter.
Right now, the team sits at fourth in their division, but they've seen enough to give them hope of challenging for a top spot.
"I've seen us just battle back in games, and get goals when we needed to. I think our team has a lot of heart, so we'll end up having a good year," says Maulers defender Billy Bigham.
The Maulers roster has players who grew up a multitude of states, and several from foreign countries, but backgrounds don't matter much when they get on the ice, because it's all about the game.
"It definitely is our number one priority in our lives. For me, other than school, it's the most important thing in my life and we all love it to death," says Porco.
But for how close the team may be getting, there are certain difficulties in having a roster so young, and in a new city.
"It's an adjustment period, for those guys who are away from home for the first time, and playing at this level for the first time, it takes a lot of growing up, and fortunately we have good families here and a good support system for those guys to make the transition as smoothly as possible," says Baxter.
"It's pretty rough when we're on the road. High School guys like me, we're missing one or two days of school each week, and are slammed with homework on the bus. While it is nice to be home every once in awhile, but it's a demanding schedule," adds Porco.
The Maulers are coming off three home wins in a row, a place they say, has the best fans in the league.
"They're loud, they are crazy, and they get after it, and a lot of people come out," says Bigham.