In the spring of 2015, the ice rink located just east of downtown Sheridan received plans for a roof. Later that year, the arena, known now as the M&M’s Center, held its grand opening.
Around that same time, Brent Milner had an idea. Why not try and attract a junior hockey team? Looking at the landscape of the NA3HL and the growing popularity of hockey in northeast Wyoming, Milner believed Sheridan would make a good home for a future team.
In the coming years, Milner took all the necessary steps, and in September, the Sheridan Hawks will drop the puck in their inaugural season.
The first thing needed for a junior hockey team is solid financial footing. The Sheridan Hawks will be a 501C3 supported club with a dozen founding partners who funded the purchase of the team. Milner, the club’s president, and the founding partners raised about $250,000 for the junior hockey team.
Once the funds were in place, the NA3HL underwent a lengthy approval process. It looked at the facility, the M&M’s Center, along with how the team would fit geographically.
Milner and the founder’s first pitch was to have the Glacier Nationals, based in Havre, Montana, relocate to Sheridan prior to the 2017-18 season. Instead of moving to Sheridan, the Glacier Nationals relocated to Butte, Montana.
Sheridan was approved for adoption of an expansion team, but not having a coach in place and with the timeline not fitting just right, Milner and the founders elected to hold out.
Everything aligned this past offseason, and the Wisconsin Whalers of the Central Division, were sold to Sheridan.
The Hawks will be the Frontier Division’s eighth team — Gillette Wild, Yellowstone Quake (Cody), Great Falls Americans, Missoula Junior Bruins, Bozeman Icedogs, Helena Bighorns and the Glacier Nationals.
Well before the Whalers relocated, and even to this day, Milner reaches out to the Gillette Wild and the Yellowstone Quake to ask any questions that come to mind.
“Both of them have been extremely helpful in getting us going,” Milner said. “They’ve bent over backward to share information. They’ve shared with us everything from their attendance numbers to contracts, the whole gamut of how they run their operations. They’ve been very helpful in sharing that with us.”
The Gillette Wild are privately owned, while the Yellowstone Quake are a 501C3 like the Sheridan Hawks.
The process of luring a junior hockey team took a while, and now that Sheridan has one much of the focus currently revolves around the team. Head coach Andy Scheib — who coached the Whalers for the past three seasons — is busy with everything from finding an assistant coach to piecing together a roster.
The team will consist of 25 players ages 16-20. Scheib would like to bring in at least six former Whalers and a few more could join that conglomerate. Other players will come via the NA3HL Draft and recruitment. Scheib is scouring his old midwest stomping grounds for players and plans to attend camps and combines this spring and summer to fill out the roster.
Players are required to attend school full-time or have a part-time job to remain eligible. They’ll reside with billet families from all over town, many of which have hockey backgrounds or are just passionate about the sport.
Players will have daily morning practices at the M&M’s Center and attend school — either local high schools, Sheridan College or online coursework — thereafter. Scheib will also hold afternoon workouts.
The Sheridan Hawks will work closely with the area’s youth teams in an effort to grow and enhance the local hockey scene. The WAHL Sheridan Haw ks will also play a role in the NA3HL Sheridan Hawks. Players from the high school team will have the opportunity to practice and receive call-ups — where they can play in NA3HL games — from the beginning of the season in September until the month of December.
Both the high school and NA3HL club are working closely together right now to build a schedule that benefits both teams and hockey fanatics around town. During the winter, some nights may see the WAHL’s Sheridan Hawks and the NA3HL’s Sheridan Hawks play back-to-back contests in a full night of hockey. As both clubs share the M&M’s Center, when one team is away for the weekend the other team will likely play host, giving fans around town hockey most every weekend.
The M&M’s Center has a seating capacity of 420. Another couple hundred can stand alongside the glass at the north end of the rink.
The Sheridan Hawks plan to renovate the south end of the rink and make a founder’s/booster’s club. They also plan to sell beer at games.
The Hawks will play a full 44-game regular season schedule, which will encompass 22 home games. Milner is excited to debut the team he’s worked hard to bring to Sheridan and has goals in mind for the first season.
“To us, it’s not about building hockey players, it’s about building good citizens and building character in young athletes and young men,” Milner said. “To us, obviously we want to be successful on the ice, but our goal is to build successful people.”
Scheib’s mindset goes hand-in-hand with that of Milner’s.
“My goal is wins and losses,” Scheib said. “I’m a hockey coach. That’s what it has to be. But at the end of the day, everyone is here to develop. For me, success is to have some kids move up to the NAHL next year or to have kids committing to Division III colleges.”
It took a few years, and a lot of leg work, but Sheridan has a new team coming to town. And it’s one that has already been well received.