Anchorage Wolverines to play Alaska team for first time, with a chance to spark rivalries and hope for youth skaters
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The North American Hockey League made its imprint in Alaska in 2003 with the formation of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
In a new era for Alaskan junior hockey, the Anchorage Wolverines arrived this year and did so in style. The NAHL’s newest franchise is off to a 9-4-1 start and have their first test against an Alaskan opponent this weekend when they travel to Soldotna to face the Kenai River Brown Bears.
After the Ice Dogs were the first NAHL team in the Last Frontier, the Tier II junior hockey league expanded with the Wasilla Spirit, who later became the Alaska Avalanche before relocating and rebranding in 2012 as the Johnstown Tomahawks in Pennsylvania. Alaska welcomed the Brown Bears in 2007, who have battled with Fairbanks for sole possession of state supremacy for nearly a decade.
“Its huge for everybody. The fans love it, the players love it and it just makes the game that much more intense and that much more fun,” said Wolverines forward Skylar Gutierrez, who has suited up in 31 career games with the Brown Bears in his junior hockey career. “I think it is awesome for even the young guys coming up and seeing that there are so many options here and you don’t have to leave the state and you can play at a high level of hockey in-state.”
Forget rivalry week — it is rivalry month for Anchorage. When the puck drops at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., it will ignite the first of 12 straight games against Alaska opponents for the Wolverines over the next six weeks. The Wolverines will get their paws on the Ice Dogs for the first time on November 19-20 at the Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage.
The sparking of new rivalries is exciting for the near future, but beyond the cheers and competition, additional Alaska teams in the mix can have a lasting impact on youth hockey around the state.
“I think it’s awesome. I mean we have been, as an organization, Nate Kiel our president, has been championing for several years and same with Rob (Proffitt) up in Fairbanks, trying to get that third and fourth team,” Brown Bears General Manager Chris Hedlund said. “There is plenty of talent, there is plenty of hockey passion, there is no doubt. Hopefully it will keep more kids, from the — I’ll say the Alaska area — from going out East. A lot of them go out East for the prep schools and that, and I understand there is value there, but maybe part of that is in their mind is to play college hockey quicker because there is more junior hockey out there, so maybe this will offset some of that from the landscape for the younger, developing areas.”
With bragging rights, state supremacy and points in the standings on the line, there isn’t much more that needs to be played for, except the Club 49 Cup presented by Alaska Airlines; a three-way point series between the NAHL’s northernmost programs. But just because the Wolverines are the new team on the block does not mean they are intimidated.
“Obviously we want to be the best team in Alaska,” Wolverines forward and Anchorage-grown Aiden Westin said. “I mean, it is our first year but we obviously have been doing pretty well so far and we don’t want to use it as an excuse that we are an expansion team, so we want to get as many points as possible and try to win a championship.”
Fairbanks sits in first place in the Midwest Division with 25 points over 17 games and Anchorage is in third with 19 points in 14 games, while Kenai has skated in 15 games, collecting four points.
Anchorage and Kenai River will square-off again Saturday night before the Brown Bears return the favor and travel to Anchorage next weekend.
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