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Daily Dish: The REAL Missoula Hockey Story - Canadian Junior Hockey News

Published: Monday, 22 Mar 2021  
By: Stephen Heisler,

**Michael Burks put a very successful Missoula Maulers on the ice in Montana before getting run out by the building and local politics. This is HIS story.**

By Michael Burks
Now that the air is finally clear as to what happened to the two junior hockey teams in Missoula, it is finally time to tell the truth as to why the original is no longer playing.  I have never told this to anyone as no one would believe me about what happened, so why on Earth would they believe anything else I had to say. This is why Missoula lost the Missoula Maulers.

The current Executive Director owned  Play it Again Sports in Missoula while serving on the MAYHA board.  She was promoted to the Executive Director and used that power to force user groups to use her shop for all needs, from jerseys to skates to anything else hockey.   

At that time, my shop, Maulers Hockey Central was serving 100% of the user groups and they were very happy with the service they were receiving.   Because of this relationship I had with the rink user groups, Play it Again failed and went out of business.     

NOBODY would use her services, no matter how hard she forced the subject.  After the final season ended (I had no idea that was going to be the last game ever played at he time) the Executive Director sent me a completely revised lease from the lease we had for nine straight years, with massive changes and extra fees and charges that were completely illegal and impossible to pay. (One example...  An extra fee of $250 was added on game nights to use the bleachers that I owned).

Furthermore, we went from the 2nd ranked organization for open dates for scheduling to after... GHL, High School, WHAM, every youth user group (U18 to termites)...  wait... I am not done... to after figure skating and curling.  

We were given seven open dates, which happened to be every Griz home game and no December dates (which would not allow us to host a Teddy Bear Toss that season). in addition, we were playing in the Western States Hockey League, which required teams to stay for three games. How many hotel rooms are available in Missoula during a Griz home game?   
I know it has been a while, but the answer is ZERO. 

When I questioned all of the massive changes and lack of dates of scheduling, I was told to deal with it or just don’t renew the lease. This after investing $800,000 of my own money to prepare the rink to host Junior Hockey Games (which also allowed the rink to finally host tournaments and make the money that came with them) and another $500,000 into the Missoula Maulers franchise, I felt absolutely betrayed and I quit,   

I had no idea at the time what the Maulers meant to this city, which I found out real quickly as my wife and I could not go out in public for a year as we were flipped off, looked at like public enemy #1 and in two different cases found a huge snot in our food.   

We did not leave the house for 365 days and debated daily on just selling everything and finding a new home. My beautiful bride sat in the corner of our bedroom for two weeks and sobbed. The ONLY reason we are still here is because we could not live without our family, who never betrayed us. 

Here’s an article that was written by Peter Christian right after everything happened. He was the only media source that actually listen to me and took the information that was put in front of him and made a non-biased decision. I want to send out a public thank you to him for always reporting the truth, without bias or agenda.

When I announced the end of the team, Western States Hockey League President/Commissioner Ron White flew to Missoula to try to salvage the relationship with his league and the Glacier Ice Rink. The director refused to meet and sent White to meet with a bunch of people just to buy time. 

The building was already talking to the NA3 about bringing a team to Missoula. The call to USA Hockey started on Monday and by Wednesday there was a franchise approved and announced. 

White was on his way back to Long Beach from Missoula when the announcement was made. While he was here, he also met with our coach Marcus Baxter and as we all had dinner the agreement was that this team would stay in Missoula and be ran by the league with Marcus as the coach. 

Baxter went behind our backs and conspired to bring in the new NA3 team, completely blindsided all of us. I heard the announcement the same time everybody else did and we were all shocked. 

When I approached Baxter about the NA3 announcement and his agreement with the WSHL, his response was “*&$% Ron.”   

At the time, Baxter was driving one of my personal vehicles so he was immediately told to bring it to my office get his crap out of it and get out of my life.    

The WSHL put me on probation with the Butte Cobras because of the entire situation and after one year, I donated the Cobras to the Butte Amateur Hockey Association so that they could keep it going and not have to pay for a thing. 

We gave the rink two buses, all of the fixtures that came out of the Missoula Rink as well as every computer and everything else that the Maulers owned. 

The agreement that White was that we would give the team to him including the buses and equipment and he would in return take $30,000 off of the league fees from the following year for the Butte Cobras.  

We had everything set to keep the team in Missoula, Baxter as a coach and no one would’ve known the difference. The rink, just completely went behind all of our back and brought in the other team and then started all the lies about why I shut the team down.

At the time, White had a bunch of emails from the rink that were mocking me and basically daring me to take everything out of the rink and that there was no way that I could do it. I highly doubt he still has it but I know he will remember because we were both absolutely floored when the announcement came. I don’t know if he actually signed anything but I do know he left with a handshake and an expectation of keeping a team in Missoula.

There you have it....  The truth about the Missoula Maulers and why they no longer play at the Glacier Ice Rink.  And as the Good Book reads, and the truth shall set you free.

As you all know, I have been going through a couple of emotional days with finally being able to tell the truth about what happened with the Missoula Maulers hockey team. 

While dealing with these emotions, memories, out of nowhere, places where you store stuff that you never think you’ll ever bring back up because it’s too painful. Memories that you have to actually double check, as you don’t know if you watched it or lived it… I may be the only one,  but one came up that I would like to share with you.

This may be long but I think it will be therapeutic for me so here you go. I have pictures of my son, Dylan Burks posing for Team Northwest. He was invited to represent them, although he was one to two years younger than everyone on the ice. He learned a lot, got shelled by some pretty phenomenal kids, but came back better than when he left.  

He played goalie from the time the Maulers came to town until he was 12 years old. Since the original goalie for the Maulers, Andrew Duff lived with us, Dylan jumped in net with mini sticks and never left. He played so much that he was unstoppable on the ice. 

This is not a dad bragging about his kid. This is fact and you can ask anyone that played against him during his seven years representing the Bruins. 

In his last game in that was against the Bozeman Icedogs, fighting for the state title, he stopped 42 shots on goal, standing on his head, bringing his team into overtime, where a turnover in the zone led to a 2-0 and the Bozeman Icedogs were the state champions. 

As the teams left the ice, the mother of the Bozeman goalie came up to me and told me that, even though her son just won the title, Dylan was my far the best goalie she had ever seen play at that age level. You know this father was grinning from ear to ear.   

Mike McGarrah was one of the officials that day and actually reached out to me to tell me how impressed he was at the phenomenal ability Dylan had to react to the puck.   

Fast forward to the awards banquet that season. As Dylan, Kiomi, and I were sitting in the parking lot outside of the awards banquet, Dylan expressed his sadness about never receiving a trophy. He knew he kept the kids in the game, and he knew that he could’ve won the game if the obvious didn’t happen. We basically told him that as long as he left it on the ice, a piece of plastic sitting on a shelf didn’t mean a damn thing. We told him that knowing in his heart is all that matters. 

At the banquet, a couple teams went up and got their awards and then it was our turn.  The coach got up, summarize the season and then started with awards. I was standing in the middle the room with my camera ready to take whatever photo I could watching Dylan receive something and just waiting for the relief and joy of getting noticed for how well he played.   

The first award was a brand new award that had never been given before. They created this award for a goalie that deserved it. I could see Dylan starting to smile. He was trying to hold it back but he knew that this was finally his time. The coach announced that the new award, the golden goalie award, would go to the other goalie on the team for not missing one day of practice.  

Dylan has always been sick, having a low immune system so winters were brutal for him. He missed a ton of practice but somehow pulled it together on game days and proved that he deserved the start. It was a complete dig on him for missing practice as we later found out that the other goalie had missed practices in the past and the award meant nothing.   

The other goalie even question it due to the fact that he did, in fact, miss practices . As Dylan‘s excitement rapidly turned into flushed skin, bitten lips and holding back tears while I had to stand up there and watch every other person get awarded for something they did that season, I couldn’t even take a picture. I just stood there stunned, looking around the room as people were looking each other with this bizarre, what the hell was that, look. 

After the awards were done, Dylan sat down at the table with his friends put it down and started sobbing. I got up from my table in the back walked up to him during the next award presentation and simply asked him if he wanted to leave. His response was “get me out of here. I don’t ever want to come back here again.” My son has never enjoyed another sport. He has tried to play hockey but his heart is not into it. He was going all the way. I had no doubt in my mind that he would be playing goalie for a college that would want him so bad that he wouldn’t have to pay a dime. 

He has since meandered around, just kind of getting through life, as his passion was put out.  He has tried basketball, football, track and anything else he could try and nothing stuck.  He would start the season strong but then he knew it wasn’t his passion so he just didn’t care and the season meant nothing.

The fact that the executive director, the youth hockey director of the time, and the head coach at the time thought that destroying a 12-year-old, completely humiliating him in front of every single peer, coach and parent that played hockey that year to get back to me because of a stupid lease dispute is something I don’t even know how to characterize.    

One of the motivations I have for becoming an asset of the University of Montana hockey club team is that I want my son to become a (Montana State University) Bobcat, travel to Missoula, and beat his old man’s team in front of all of his friends and family.   

There is nothing more in this world that I want to do is name Dylan Burks as the first star of the Montana State Bobcats when he stands on his head, stops 40 shots and earns his first collegiate shut out.    

Now that would be an emotion motion that will never be buried.

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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