Montana is hockey country with hundreds of teams playing league games late in the night to get available ice at places like the Glacier Ice Rink. The Montana Amateur Hockey Association has a very active schedule for youth.

Junior hockey is big, with NA3HL teams the Bozeman Ice Dogs, Butte Cobras, Great Falls Americans and the Helena Bighorns keeping competition fierce, with memories of great teams like the Missoula Maulers recalled in jerseys still worn at work and school.

We'll likely never have the population necessary for a National Hockey League franchise, but this week we did get a closer option for seeing the NHL stars, thanks to Utah.

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This has been coming for a while

For the past couple of years, it's appeared the Arizona Coyotes were prime for a move after owner Alex Meruelo hit a dead end in efforts to find a larger venue than the 5,000-seat arena in Phoenix.

Thursday, the NHL Board of Governors approved the hybrid sale of the club to Ashley and Ryan Smith of Smith Entertainment, who also owns the Utah Jazz. That sets an ambitious schedule to re-work the arena in Salt Lake City, move, and re-brand the team.

For Montana NHL fans it's great news

It's not like Montana hockey fans aren't surrounded by NHL teams. But it takes effort to see a game.

Calgary has always been the closest since the Flames relocated, just 417 miles from Missoula. But crossing the border is a hassle. Same to see the Canucks in Vancouver, over 600 miles away.

Seeing the Kraken in Seattle is possible, but a challenging 525-mile winter road trip over Snoqualmie Pass. Denver is a 550-mile haul from Billings, but requires a flight for anyone else in Montana. And while Northwest Montana loves the Golden Nights, reaching Las Vegas in the winter is a gamble too.

Conversely, SLC is 475 miles from Missoula, a 7-hour shot down I-15, and about an hour longer from Great Falls. If the roads are good, that makes an easy weekend run.

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However, because Salt Lake is also a regional air hub for Delta, it's super simple to jump a plane, especially for Missoula at 1 hour and 35 minutes and Bozeman at just over an hour in the air. Tickets aren't cheap on weekends. But the connection is simple with lots of transit options from the SLC airport into downtown.

Edmonton Oilers v Arizona Coyotes
Getty Images; Christian Petersen
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Don't throw away the Arizona jerseys yet Montana

If you loved the Coyotes, there's still a chance for a comeback. Arizona will keep the name and the club could re-start if it can find a new arena.

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Gallery Credit: KC