eBay, Kelly Cups and the end of the Alaska Aces
From losing games to losing money, things were not looking good for the Aces in the early 2000s. Fresh off their worst season in franchise history in 2001-2002, it didn’t look promising for Anchorage’s professional hockey franchise.
In June of 2002 the team faced $2,000,000 in debt, and then owner Mike Cusack Junior put the team on eBay. The franchise would soon be saved by a seven-member group who bought the team in bankruptcy court.
“First season was really tough. We got in August, started playing in October,” said Aces owner and managing partner Terry Parks. “We didn’t have a coach, we didn’t have a team, and we didn’t have any employees. So it was a tough first year.”
2002-2003 would be considered a rebuilding season, and safe to say, times were changing from the team’s name, ownership to their head coach.
In any line of business, who you hire is key to success. Professional hockey was no different, and many consider the hiring of Davis Payne as a turning point for the franchise.
“Davis was the most prepared interview that I’ve ever done, and I’ve probably interviewed 500 people in my life,” said Parks. “By far the best-prepared and had a plan.”
When the team made the jump to the ECHL in 2003 they would change their name to the Alaska Aces, and their success on the ice would soon change as well.
“When Davis Payne came in things became much more businesslike and professional,” said public address announcer Bob Lester.
By 2004 the team had built a winning culture, and soon it would have Stanley Cup talent to match when they added East Anchorage’s Scotty Gomez during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout.
“They managed to keep it a pretty big secret, not a lot of people knew,” said Gomez Aces teammate Kimbi Daniels.
Not only did he help the Aces on the ice, but in the ticket sales department as well.
“I think it made a big difference in the philosophy of the team. I said it was the best recruiting I ever had,” said Parks. “I think Scotty was making about $4,500,000, and we paid him $500 a week.”
After the lockout Gomez would return to the NHL, but the best days were yet to come for the Glacier Blue as they won the Kelly Cup, ECHL’s version of the Stanley Cup, in 2006, 2011 and 2014.
But the end of the franchise was quickly approaching.
“I remember we were in the third round of the playoffs in 2014, and we weren’t selling out the games,” said Lester.
In February of 2017 the ownership group announced the franchise would fold for financial reasons.
The announcement took many by surprise, but Parks said it was declining ticket sales, the economy and keeping the players on the ice.
“What most people don’t understand the real risk with minor league hockey is not only do you have payroll and travel, but we also had workers comp, all the injuries, we had to take care of those financially,” said Parks.
Since 2017 many hockey fans have speculated when professional hockey will return to Anchorage.