The UAA Seawolves have long been done — for the season.
The Alaska Aces are done — forever.
But there's no shortage of Alaska players and Alaska-connected players, and a few coaches similarly connected, still hunting hockey hardware this spring.
Three Alaska connections have already seized their dream. Denver won the men's NCAA Division I title with assistant coaches David Carle of Anchorage and Tavis MacMillan, the former UAF head coach and high-scoring Nanooks forward. Also, sophomore Mackenzie Millen of Anchorage won her second straight women's NCAA Division III crown with Plattsburgh (New York), which has merely captured four straight titles.
And more than three dozen Alaska connections continue chasing their dream in postseasons ranging from the best league on the planet, the NHL, down through the pro minor leagues to the amateur junior circuits in North America.
One Alaska team is alive — the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League opened the Robertson Cup playoffs with Friday night's 2-1 road win over the Minnesota Magicians. Defenseman Aaron McPheters of Anchorage, a UAA commit, delivered the game-winning, short-handed strike. The Ice Dogs also include forwards Daniel Haider and Cayden Cahill of Anchorage, and forward Tanner Schachle of Wasilla.
In the NHL, Anchorage centers Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Nate Thompson (Anaheim Ducks) are competing in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Former UAA center Jay Beagle (Washington Capitals) is enjoying a career-best season and seeking to rack a hat trick of pro trophies at three different levels — he won the ECHL's Kelly Cup with the Idaho Steelheads in 2007, and the American Hockey League's Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010. And two former UAF Nanooks — defenseman Colton Parayko (St. Louis Blues) and goaltender Chad Johnson (Calgary Flames) — also are in the Stanley Cup mix.
Thompson twice in his career has been tantalizingly close to the Stanley Cup Final — he's lost twice in Game 7 of the conference final, the last step before the Final. And he confesses a veteran pro — Thompson, 32, has played nine full NHL seasons — harbors the same dream he did as a kid: Lifting the Stanley Cup, a silver chalice that turns the hardest of men to puddles.
"That's the big reason guys keep playing, because of that big, shiny mug,'' Thompson said. "You watch the commercials about the Cup when you're watching games, and you catch yourself daydreaming. 'What would it be like to have your day with the Cup? What would it be like to lift it?' ''
And what would it be like to take it home and share it with your community, as center Scott Gomez of Anchorage did in 2000 and 2003 after he won Cups with the New Jersey Devils?
This is the time of season players learn to understand the sacrifice required to be the last team standing. Any shift can generate a springboard, or a fall into the abyss. Players are hyped, tuned into the tiniest detail. Fans roar. No playoff game is just another night on the rink. And that's why players, coaches and fans alike covet playoff hockey.
"I think it's just the competitiveness and how the intensity ramps up,'' Thompson said. "Everything is on the line — your season is on the line.
"Every shift, every hit, every face-off matters. And you need everyone contributing — the guy who plays five minutes and the guy who plays 25 minutes. That's what makes this time of year exciting. Everything matters.''
Alaska Connections In The Playoffs
C Brandon Dubinsky of Anchorage, former Alaska Ace, Columbus Blue Jackets
C Nate Thompson of Anchorage, former Alaska Ace, Anaheim Ducks
C Jay Beagle, former UAA, Washington Capitals
D Colton Parayko, former UAF, St. Louis Blues
G Chad Johnson, former UAF, Calgary Flames
American Hockey League (theahl.com)
D William Wrenn of Anchorage, former Alaska Ace, Toronto Marlies
F Brett Findlay, former Alaska Ace, Toronto Marlies
F Tage Thompson, former Anchorage resident, Chicago Wolves
C Stephen Perfetto, former Alaska Ace, Milwaukee Admirals
D Brian Cooper of Anchorage, San Diego Gulls
C Tyler Morley, former UAF, San Diego Gulls
G Pheonix Copley of North Pole, Hershey Bears
F Tanner Sorenson of Anchorage, former Alaska Ace, Kalamazoo Wings
F Greg Wolfe, former Alaska Ace, Adirondack Thunder
G Lukas Hafner, former Alaska Ace, Colorado Eagles
W Alex Belzile, former Alaska Ace, Colorado Eagles
F Curt Gogol, former Alaska Ace, Florida Everblades
D Corbin Baldwin, former Alaska Ace, Idaho Steelheads
C Joe Perry, former Alaska Ace, Orlando Solar Bears
C Chris Francis, former Alaska Ace, Quad City Mallards
D Florian Iberer, former Alaska Ace, Reading Royals
W Olivier Archambault, former Alaska Ace, South Carolina Stingrays
D Landon Oslanski, former Alaska Ace, Toledo Walleye
D Garrett Haar, former Alaska Ace, Utah Grizzlies
D Marc-Andre Levesque, former Alaska Ace, Utah Grizzlies
F Erik Higby, former Alaska Ace, Utah Grizzlies
Southern Professional Hockey League (thesphl.com)
D Dave Pszenyczny, former Alaska Ace, Peoria Rivermen
G Adam Courchaine, former Alaska Aces, Huntsville Havoc
D Nolan Kaiser, former UAF, Huntsville Havoc
Western Hockey League (whl.ca)
G Michael Bullion of Anchorage, Medicine Hat Tigers
U.S. Hockey League (ushl.com)
Dallas Steward, former UAA player, Chicago Steel assistant coach
Jason Lammers, former UAF staff, Dubuque Fighting Saints head coach
North American Hockey League (nahl.com)
F Gage Mackie of Anchorage, Aberdeen Wings
F Colton Fletcher of Wasilla, Aberdeen Wings
F Drake Glover of Anchorage, Lone Star Brahmas
D Croix Evingson of Anchorage, Shreveport Mudbugs
F Daniel Haider of Anchorage, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
D Aaron McPheters of Anchorage, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
F Cayden Cahill of Anchorage, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
F Tanner Schachle of Wasilla, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Tom Kowal of Anchorage, former UAA player, head coach Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights