Canadian teams won gold medals in both men’s and women’s hockey at the Sochi Winter Olympics. But it would be wrong to assume that Canadians have cornered the market on dedication to this fast-paced game of sticks, pucks and nets. Montana hockey parents aren’t afraid to pack their youngsters into the minivan and ferry them to games halfway across the state.
Laura Brandt’s own enthusiasm for hockey provided her with a good background for running the Billings Amateur Hockey League, which owns the Centennial Ice Arena. She set up an internship at the rink during her final semester studying business at Montana State University Billings, and she jumped at the chance to be director when the position opened after graduation.
Brandt visited with Billings Business recently to talk about a surprisingly vibrant hockey culture in Billings.
Could you provide a little information on the state of youth hockey in Billings? Is the sport growing?
Youth hockey in Billings, and all across Montana, has varied over the years. As a whole, ice hockey in Montana and Billings is growing right now. We have been retaining more players as well as gaining more new players over the last several years. I believe the efforts that USA Hockey, state and local organizations are making in cleaning up the game is helping the sport grow.
What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced working for a nonprofit? Did your studies in business school prepare you?
All of the challenges were expected. It can be challenging to work under a board and not be able to make some decisions quickly because it has to go through a group of people for approval first. There is judgment in everything, and I sometimes find it difficult to find a balance with what decisions can be handled without approval and which ones can't.
Business school helped prepare me for some of the diversity that comes with my job. While I feel more nonprofit-specific education would have been helpful, I received enough of a business base that I could have been a lot worse off coming into this position than I was.
Girls started flocking to soccer programs in the wake of the U.S. women’s World Cup victory in 1999. Are there indications that the success of the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team, which won the silver medal in Sochi, had a similar effect on girl’s hockey?
It is very possible that ice sports will see a spike in interest following the Olympics. The media putting women athletes and sports in a positive spotlight will help the sports continue to grow, especially in hockey, where it historically was thought of as a man’s game.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White just won a gold medal in ice dancing. Will we see more kids take an interest in figure skating?
This is quite likely. However, it can be a challenge to get as much growth in areas like Montana because most arenas are not year-round.
How did you get started in hockey? Do you still play?
I started playing hockey because my best friend and older sister played and I wanted to try. Mom said no and Dad signed me up anyway. There was no turning back.
I still play in the Magic City Adult Hockey League and every chance I get with the various groups that play and participate in adult tournaments. I hope to play until I am no longer able to.