For nearly 30 years, Helena has supported junior hockey and with the help of the local community, new Bighorn owners, Jed Snyder and Mike Greene, are hoping to spur a revival.
Snyder is from Helena and is a Capital High graduate. He also played for the Helena Ice Pirates back in the 1990s when the franchise was in its early days and part of the Tier II America West Hockey League.
Greene was also involved in the franchise back in its early days, which is how the two new owners got to know each other. “We were both part of the first team,” Greene said. “Jed used to work at the rink before it was open. That’s how we became life-long friends.”
“I told him, ‘I think I have to get back to Helena,'” Snyder said. “We were talking on the phone one night and got to wondering what was up with the franchise. Then, things went really quickly from there.”
“We really enjoyed our experience here,” Greene said. “And we want to recreate that for our coaches, our players and our fans. We want to provide a really good, fun product for the community and we think we are headed in the right direction towards doing that.”
Within that league, which includes teams from across the country, Helena plays in the Frontier Division, but after winning the league title back in the 2018-19 season, the Bighorns finished sixth and fifth respectively, over the past two seasons.
“We are all invested,” Greene said. “You have a guy (Jed) who played here and is now part-owner and myself, who coached here and is part owner. We just want to make this the best junior hockey franchise it can be.”
“We’re excited about building a program,” Hanson said. “We want to bring in quality players and try to move them on from year to year. We want to develop them as hockey players and most importantly, we want to develop them as people.”
Junior hockey can be a tough business, but Snyder said the way the Bighorns have endured provides hope for the future. “There hasn’t been a period where this team ceased to run operations,” he said. “And in this day and age, with the way that hockey has shifted, that’s pretty unique. It’s been around for 26 years and that’s what we want to keep alive.”
“A lot of hockey has gotten diluted,” he said. “They don’t put the players and the coaches first. We talk about if we build it, they will come. So let’s put a good product on the ice and put the right kids into the community. We want the community to be involved and hopefully, at that point, you will have elevated yourself to a top-tier program.”
But player development and winning don’t have to be mutually exclusive and in Helena, in the past with the Bighorns, they haven’t been as the franchise captured a Tier III national championship as recently as 2011.
“Back when it was the Helena Ice Pirates, it was on fire,” Snyder said. “People were at the games all the time, we were out in the community and people knew who we were and that’s what we want to bring back.”