The Montana Griz hockey team ended the season 20-9, according to its website, but didn’t make it to the postseason thanks to forfeiting a number of games. The forfeits happened because there was a misunderstanding of eligibility rules and paperwork errors as a result, according to co-head coach Mike Anderson.

On Dec. 11, the Griz hockey team was ranked sixth in the west division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II. By January, it was ranked 48th with 10.75 penalty points. The next closest teams in penalty points in the West division were Utah Valley University and Eastern Washington University, who each racked up 4.75. 

The ACHA is a group of non-NCAA teams made up of college students who want to play hockey. Throughout all divisions of men’s and women’s hockey, the ACHA has about 450 teams nationwide. 

The University of Montana resurrected its team in 2021, making it unable to qualify for playoffs last year because it was its inaugural year. This season, thanks to the issues Anderson mentioned, the team again failed to qualify for playoffs.

The ACHA eligibility rules state that all players must be taking at least nine semester hours of credits for undergraduates, maintain a cumulative grade-point-average of 2.0 and successfully complete those credits to stay eligible to play. 

Anderson said the players were all in school, but with the team being “young” the coaching staff misunderstood some of the changing eligibility rules. The team’s composition has changed throughout the season because of guys deciding school wasn’t for them, transferring out of UM or getting injured. Coach Anderson believes the team still has a strong core group that it will take into next season. 

The players didn’t know any of the forfeits were happening until after the first semester. 

“In my opinion it’s not really our place to be the ones in charge of that, that’s obviously on the coaches and the staff who run all that,” Zach Malkowski, a forward said. 

He is a 21-year-old junior from Westland, Michigan, who is majoring in integrative physiology with a focus in athletic training. He said the team was upset about the forfeits, but understood that things get overlooked and it was a mistake. 

Griz hockey has become a popular event in Missoula in the last two seasons. On any given Friday or Saturday night, college students crowd around the glass to yell and cheer on their team. The last game at Glacier Ice Rink was a sold out Montana versus Montana State University matchup. 

Anderson said the high point of the season for the team was being invited to the Beehive Tournament in Utah. The team was invited in only its second year of being ACHA and went 4-0 at the tournament. UM beat Weber State once and Utah State twice at the tourney. 

The team had a chance to still make regionals with an automatic bid from the Mountain West College Hockey tournament in Bozeman in early February, but the Griz lost to MSU there. According to the ACHA, the Griz finished 4-10 in the west region of D2. 

“We’ve tightened things up, it’s not going to happen again, but it sucks for sure,” Anderson said. 

The ACHA ranks teams based on record, penalty points and strength of schedule. The Griz ranked second in the conference for strength of schedule, meaning the team played a harder schedule than most of the teams in the conference. Plus this was outweighed by the penalty points it racked up over the season. The rules PDF on the ACHA website is currently inaccessible.

“I think we surprised a lot of people, and I think we surprised ourselves with how well we did as a team together,” Malkowski said. 

Though UM is done for this season, Malkowski is ready to have a fresh slate next season and try its hand at playoffs again. During the offseason, the team holds camps and recruits to keep strengthening its roster. The Grizzlies will be back at Glacier Ice Rink in late September to start the season.