Maulers owner goes long

Spring is no longer Michael Burks' off-season. The owner of Missoula's minor league hockey team, the Maulers, announced this week he purchased the Missoula Phoenix, a semi-professional team in the Rocky Mountain Football League AA Northern Conference. Burks officially took over for former Phoenix owner John Velk on June 30.

The final cost of the exchange remains confidential, but Burks is open about his initial improvements to the Phoenix image, including a complete overhaul of the team's website and a home-field switch from Washington-Grizzly Stadium to Loyola Sacred Heart High School. Burks says the Phoenix coaching staff and player roster will remain unchanged.

Velk first singled Burks out as a potential buyer three weeks ago, when the two bumped into each other at Outback Steakhouse. According to Burks, Velk made his intentions of stepping down as owner known and asked Burks if he would step up. The Maulers owner was hesitant at first, but agreed after about a week of negotiations.

"I wanted whoever owned it to bring it to the next level," Burks says. "A lot of people had no idea that the Missoula Phoenix existed, and what I wanted to do is make it like the Maulers. For the months of April, May and June, it'll be Phoenix season."

Velk believes he made the right choice in approaching Burks for the position. He's already made a success of the Maulers through skillful marketing, Velk says, and appears the best chance the Phoenix have of increasing their local clout.

"I sought out Mike because I thought it would dovetail well with the Maulers," Velk says. "He's already got an administration in place for promoting an athletic team with the Maulers. He's got sales staff, he's got announcers, and he's got the wherewithal."

Velk originally intended to leave the Phoenix behind for good. However, voices with both sides of the purchase have expressed an interest in seeing his participation continue.

"They're trying to lobby me to be the announcer for the team," Velk says. "I might do it, I might not."

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