Friday, May 26, 2006

Taylor not getting NAHL team after all

Helena Independent Record Sports Editor

The Helena Bighorns aren’t skating out of town.

After numerous rumors arose surrounding the status of the franchise, team president Mike Butters said the North American Hockey League (NAHL) franchise will stay in Helena. However, it will combine with the Queen City Cutthroats and compete in the Northern Pacific Hockey League (NORPAC).

The move was precipitated by the recent withdrawal of the Billings Bulls and Bozeman Icedogs from the NAHL. That will leave the Bismarck Bobcats as the closest NAHL franchise.

“With the repercussions surrounding that, we had no choice but to look at other options,” Butters said.

The team was given inactive status by the NAHL.

The announcement by Butters puts to rest a month of speculation that the Bighorns were going to leave Helena. Taylor, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, was mentioned as a possible destination for the team and Butters said a group from Taylor showed interest in buying the team. He said he entertained their offers, but never considered moving the franchise completely out of Helena.

“Hockey in Helena was never in jeopardy at all,” he said.

Helena hockey fans are familiar with the NORPAC hockey, a Junior B league which included the Cutthroats for the last two years. Butte and Bozeman are part of the league along with several teams in Washington and Oregon.

“Its not so much a downward shift, but a lateral shift,” Butters said about the move from Junior A to Junior B status.

Butters did say that USA Hockey is considering massive changes in the way it organizes teams and a move back up to the Junior A level could be in the offing after the 2006-2007 season.

He said last year’s crop of Cutthroats and Bighorns are currently mulling over whether to return to Helena or not. With the roster in flux, Butters said that strong recruiting will be important for success next winter. Butters said he and his staff will attend several hockey showcases this summer in order to fill their roster.

The coaching staff for the team will be headed up by Scott Cunningham, former coach of the Cutthroats. He led Queen City to two consecutive NORPAC titles.

Brent Agrusa, a former Bighorns coach, who took a sabbatical last season due to health issues will be the head scout for Helena this season.

Butters said the schedule for the team will be finalized in the next few weeks following the USA Hockey meetings.

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