Growing up in Anchorage, Aiden Westin regularly attended University of Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey games as a youth.
The Seawolves were a lynchpin not just in the hockey community but the entire community with the history and philanthropy that the program had established for decades.
For the past two years, he has been an integral part of the success of the Anchorage Wolverines junior hockey team of the NAHL and will continue his career at the collegiate level in his home town as well after committing to play for UAA starting in the fall of this year.
“I’ve played in Alaska for most of my life and I’m not really trying to change that,” Westin said. “I love playing in front of my friends and family and all of our fans here at the Wolverines and at UAA next year too so I’m excited for that.”
He had originally committed to UAA’s in-state rival school, University of Alaska Fairbanks, even though the Seawolves program had just been reinstated at the time he made his decision. However, after witnessing up close what UAA head coach Matt Shasby and his staff were building, he decided to change his mind.
“When I committed to Fairbanks, UAA had just been revived and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen with their program,” Westin said. “They were just a little late talking to me but once I saw the success they were having, I think they’re heading in the right direction so I made the switch to come home.”
His relationship with Shasby played a role in his decision to stay home as well. He and Shasby’s son, Camden, train and skate together during the summer.
“He cares a lot about the program and is going to do everything in his power to make it successful,” Westin said.
The familiarity goes both ways.
“I’ve watched him grow up and kind of work his way through youth hockey and I watched him pretty closely last year when he was with the Wolverines and just watched his game kind of continue to progress towards being a very good Division I hockey player,” Shasby said.
Shasby and his staff had to quickly build up the program and roster from scratch and tried to recruit as many local products as they could, including Westin.
“Fairbanks beat us to the punch last year and he was committed to Fairbanks for the second half of last year and a really good majority of this year,” Shasby said. “Once he announced that he was not going to be attending UAF, we had a conversation with him (to see) if he would be interested in playing in his hometown and things just kind of came together that way.”
Wolverines head coach Evan Trupp said the North American Hockey League program aims to put as many players as possible in college programs, even better if they’re in-state.
“It’s good to see local guys being able to not only move on to college but being able to play in front of their home crowd at another level and to continue moving up the ladder,” he said.
He said that he’ll try to catch some of the Seawolves games when he can and support Westin next fall.
“We love and support UAA,” Trupp said. “It’s good to see Alaska kids move on to both there and UAF.”
Westin will be joining his fellow former Wolverine, Matt Johnson, who he played with last year on the Seawolves.
“It’s nice having that pipeline where they’re able to get viewed up here on a regular basis,” Trupp said.
One of Westin’s current teammates who will become a rival this fall is forward Fedya Nikolayenya. The Minsk, Belarus native announced his commitment to play for the Nanooks last week and the two are already looking forward to facing off in a live game and not just practice for once.
“We’re definitely going to be rivals,” he said. “We’re pretty good buddies off the ice but I’m really happy for him. It’s going to be a great spot for him and he really deserves it.”
Because the Wolverines and Seawolves often play not only on the same days but often the same times, it’s been hard for Westin to make it to many of his future program’s games.
The one he did get to attend this season got him even more excited to get the opportunity to sport the green and gold next year.
“It was a great atmosphere and I had a good time at the game,” Westin said. “It seemed like the fans were loving it too.”
Dangerous skillset that transfers to the next level
Westin currently leads the Wolverines in goals scored with 19 and points with 42 through 35 games and is an explosive playmaker that his future head coach can’t wait to have at his disposal.
“In terms of his abilities, he’s one of the best skaters just getting up and down the ice,” Shasby said. “His biggest weapon is his ability to beat people off the rush.”
Trupp agreed that his speed is one of the traits that “helps separate his game from the rest of the pack.”
“Speed kills and I keep telling him that when he’s able to use that to his advantage and slow the game down and then speed it up, he’s extremely effective,” Trupp said.
Shasby also loves the level of intensity and competitive nature that Westin plays with that “allows him to be such an impact guy.”
“Those are two intangibles at the Division I level where if you’re highly competitive and you can skate, you’re going to be able to impact the game,” Shasby said. “On top of that, he’s really worked on being able to finish around the net and that’s allowed him to put up the points he’s put up.”
Consistently being able to put the puck in the back of the net is the Seawolves “biggest Achilles’ heel right now” according to Shasby and even though Westin won’t provide them with immediate reinforcements for this year, the future is bright with such a gifted scorer coming into the fold.
“Adding somebody that can potentially increase our goal production is huge for us,” he said.