The Anchorage Wolverines, Alaska’s new junior hockey team, will play their home games at Sullivan Arena, possibly as early as this October, the team announced Wednesday.
In a video posted on social media, team president Kai Binkley Sims said the Wolverines will open play on the road in mid-September and plan to play their first game home game in October, hopefully at Sullivan Arena.
If Sullivan isn’t available by then — it’s currently being used as a homeless shelter — home games will be played at Ben Boeke Ice Arena, Sims said.
The Wolverines are Alaska’s third team in the North American Hockey League, a Tier II league for hockey players under the age of 21. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Kenai River Brown Bears were among 27 teams in the league this season, and the Wolverines are one of three expansion teams joining the league in the 2021-22 season.
The Wolverines have so far signed 13 players, including eight Alaskans, Sims said. Sims is part of an ownership group that includes her brother, Ryan Binkley; Sims and Binkley are also part of the Binkley Co., which owns the Anchorage Daily News.
Running the show from the bench will be Mike Aikens, a Minnesota man who over the years has worked as a head coach in three junior hockey leagues — the NAHL, the U.S. Hockey League and the British Columbia Hockey League,
This season was Aikens’ third as an assistant coach for the Rochester Grizzlies of the NA3HL, a Tier III junior league. The Grizzlies were 38-6-1 heading into Wednesday’s first game of the Fraser Cup, the NA3HL’s national championship tournament.
Aikens, who grew up in Rochester, started his coaching career in 1995 as an assistant with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, the nation’s top junior league. Over the years he has been a head or assistant coach for the Rochester Mustangs (USHL), the Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks (USHL), the Chicago Steel (USHL), the Billings Bulls (NAHL), the Williams Lake TimberWolves (BCHL) and the Grizzlies.
Aikens returned to the Lancers to serve as head coach from 2011-13 and spent the next five years as a skating and hockey trainer in Rochester before joining the Grizzlies in April 2018.
“I’ve been out of the USHL/NAHL game for eight years, but I’d say I may potentially be a better coach than when I left that part of the game, because of my experiences here,” Aikens told the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
Aikens signed a three-year contract with the Wolverines, according to the Post-Bulletin, and will live in Anchorage during the hockey season.
“There are certainly challenges of building a new franchise from the ground up,” he said. “As far as the hockey side of it, I expect to be competitive in Year 1; I don’t want to go up there and get embarrassed.
“We’d love to be better than competitive, but that’s a tall order going into a very good league with good coaches and players who are established.”
The Wolverines will play in the NAHL’s Midwest Division along with Fairbanks and Kenai.
Sims said the team plans to play most home games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the Sullivan Arena, which hasn’t hosted a hockey game since UAA left the arena after the 2018-19 season.
The arena became an emergency homeless shelter last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Anchorage Assembly recently passed a resolution asking the mayor’s administration to come up with a transition plan for the facility.
“We hope to have some input into the locker room restoration, but otherwise, our understanding is that the Muni is planning to restore the Sullivan Arena to it’s pre-COVID condition,” Sims said.
The team on Wednesday announced three camps in the next three months, two in Anchorage and one in Grand Forks, North Dakota: a May 21-23 Futures Camp in Anchorage, a pre-draft camp June 25-27 in Anchorage and a pre-draft camp July 9-11 in Grand Forks.
NAHL players do not receive a salary, and players from out of town live with host families. The league is a stepping stone, and for many the goal is to earn a scholarship with a Division I college team.
Here are the 13 players who have signed contracts to play for the Wolverines:
Jackson Krock, Mars, Pennsylvania
Jordan Stear, Aubrey, Texas
Grant Newcomer, McFarland, Wisconsin
Cameron Morris, Anchorage
Cooper Morris, Anchorage
Raythen Robbins, Anchorage
Clay Allen, Anchorage
Skylar Gutierrez, Anchorage
Aiden Westin, Anchorage
Gage Brown, Morgan Hill, California
Karsten Senden, Eagle River
Jack Kerich, Anchorage
Shane Soderwall, Algonquin, Illinois