If wintertime in Jackson Hole makes you think of Rendezvous Mountain blanketed in fresh powder, the cherry-red glint of the tram passing high over smiling skiers, and après joints serving up hot toddies, you aren’t alone. Skiing and Jackson Hole are synonymous these days, but our local hockey team, the Moose, has been livening up the Jackson scene with a dose of rowdy competition for twenty years. If you haven’t been to a Moose hockey game yet, your weekends are missing out.
The tiny town of Jackson shows up in droves – 1200 fans per game, to be exact – to support the Moose no matter what kind of a season they are having. Though the stoke is high these days due to the fact that they win, and win often. Tonight the Moose are facing a fierce team from New York. The arena is packed, and bleacher seating spills into standing room only as locals jockey for the best spots, close to the ice and the action. The upstairs section boasts a live DJ and an animated social scene that Moose owner Bob “Howie” Carruth describes as “kind of like a sports bar with a TV on – some are glued to the game, and some are there to drink beer and have a good time.”
Howie is a Minnesota native whose passion for being on the ice prompted him to start the Moose in 1997, after the local junior league team folded. Howie simply couldn’t imagine a mountain town without a hockey team, so he threw together the Moose in two months and modeled his community supported hockey program after the Sun Valley Suns. The first season was a rollercoaster, but Howie cleaned up the program the next year, and started winning. “We run a good, clean, program, but we are also hard-hitting… we defend each other,” Howie tells us.
As a scuffle breaks out on the ice, bodies and hockey sticks slam into the boards, almost spilling the beer in the hand of one fan, who practically has her nose pressed to the glass. “I got here early,” she smiles, “to watch us dominate.”
Moose players are quick to thank their fans for showing up game after game, and in turn, the team never turns down an opportunity to give back to its fans and community. The Moose team is closely tied to Jackson’s youth hockey program, and players contribute as coaches and mentors. Drew Akins, who is the director of player development for the youth program and a high scorer for the Moose, admires how “the coaches here are so devoted, it’s amazing. Sometimes there will be ten coaches out on the ice with the kids.” The Moose also collaborate with the Teton Adaptive Center every other Sunday to help kids and adults with special needs learn to skate using sleds, a project that has received a grant from USA Hockey.
Tonight sees the Moose continue their winning streak, beating the New York St. Nicks 4 to 2. Celebrations commence in the locker room after the game, where players, coaches, friends, and fans mingle, eating pizza, drinking cold brews, and enthusiastically reliving tonight’s highlights. As fans file out of the arena, buzzed on the win and warmed by the energetic camaraderie, they speculate about next Friday night’s game against the Bozeman Stingers. Some say the heart of hockey belongs in the Midwest, but this little Western ski town is proud to call the Moose all ours.
Check game results, upcoming schedules and roster info for the Jackson Hole Moose Hockey Team on their website.