Anchorage is a hockey town. Alaska’s neighbors have Hockey Night in Canada.
Fairbanks, however, is hardcore. It has Hockey Week in Fairbanks. And it goes 10 days.
When hockey debuted at the Winter Olympics in 1924. Fairbanksans were already swinging sticks on the Chena River, and by 1925, the University of Alaska Fairbanks had a team.
Built on toughness, tenacity and teamwork, it’s no wonder hockey has found a home in the Golden Heart City.
Where the Gold Kings once ruled, the Ice Dogs now play junior hockey along with the UAF Nanooks, and their home games bookended an extraordinary array of events and activities all over town.
As a warmup to this weekend’s North American Hockey League series at Ben Boeke Ice Arena between the Anchorage Wolverines and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, here is an A-to-Z recap of the Feb. 18-27 hockey puck-a-palooza with a few related notes thrown in:
Allison, Dave. The Ice Dogs new coach was hired in January. Allison took over for Trevor Stewart — who took a job as an assistant with the University of Alaska Anchorage, which resumes play next season. A Canadian who played briefly for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1983-84 season and coached the Ottawa Senators during the 1995-96 season, Allison knew Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt from when he was a coach in the United States Hockey League.
Blood drive. As part of Hockey Week, the Blood Bank of Alaska in Fairbanks got a chance to collect donations without any blood being spilled on the ice.
Celebrity games. With notable names from the past and teams from the police department, fire department, Air Force and Army frequently participating, there is always a favorite first responder to root for.
Dipper. The Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks, once the home ice of the Gold Kings, now houses the Ice Dogs.
Extravaganza. The Feb. 19 event at the Dipper was aimed at kids 4-12 and gave them opportunities to get the speed of their shot clocked by a radar gun, design jerseys, play floor hockey in a bouncy house rink, get their face painted like a hockey player and about a dozen other booths with activities. Some of the participants were hockey players and some weren’t, but it was all free.
Fairbanks fans. The Ice Dogs average more than 2,100 fans per game, good for third in the NAHL.
Gold Kings. The documentary “Alaska Gold Kings,” which looks at the team that played from 1975-95 and was both tremendously popular and successful, premiered Feb. 23 at Pioneer Park Theater.
Hall of Fame Ceremony. Volunteer extraordinaire Anna Culley was inducted this year for her decades of dedication to keeping the focus of youth hockey in the right place — on the kids, on and off the ice.
Ice Dogs. The three-time NAHL champs lead the Midwest Division and took two of three against the Minnesota Magicians in a Feb. 17-19 series at the Dipper.
Jerseys. Feb. 25 was declared Wear Your Jersey to Work/School Day.
Kids. The Fairbanks Children’s Museum had The Hockey Project at its Imagineering Lab.
Love Bergvall. The Ice Dogs defenseman has an unforgettable first name and at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he gives opponents a good reason to remember it when he’s on the ice.
Malinowski, Alexander. The Swedish star has been lights out for the Fairbanks junior team all season. His 62 points (28 goals, 34 assists) lead the league. Malinowski hails from Linkoping, the fifth-largest city in Sweden. Two UAF players are coincidentally also from Linkoping. To which Malinowski, who has committed to play at Division I American International College, says, “Sometimes the world is small.”
Nanooks. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is rolling right now — the Nanooks are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games after going 1-0-1 in a pair of overtime games against Arizona State at the Carlson Center.
Offense. The Ice Dogs have it. Fairbanks leads the NAHL in goals with 199.
Patty Center. The venue was used for judging the snow sculpture competition. Who was Patty? He was Earnest Patty, one of UAF’s original six faculty members. The facility includes a 2,700-seat arena for basketball and volleyball, a 25-yard swimming pool, a riflery range, handball and racquetball courts and a human performance laboratory.
Question. Will the NAHL schedule put the Wolverines in Fairbanks for next year’s Hockey Week?
Roger McKinnon Day. McKinnon, a former Gold King, coached in Fairbanks for 42 years on was honored Feb. 20.
Shasby, Camden. The defenseman is the Ice Dogs only player who calls Anchorage his hometown. His father, Matt Shasby, will be a first-year coach at the University of Alaska Anchorage next season. Don’t expect to see Cam in the lineup for the Seawolves. He’s committed to playing at Western Michigan.
Talon Sigurdson. While the Ice Dogs have the league leader in points, the Wolverines have the NAHL’s second-leading sniper in Sigurdson, who has 33 goals on the season.
Ukraine. Wolverines forward Bohdan Panasenko is from Kharkov. Here’s hoping for peace soon.
Vengeance. When the Ice Dogs coach was asked if there was a rivalry between Fairbanks and Anchorage, he exclaimed, “They kicked our ass 8-1!” We’ll take that as a yes.
Wins and losses. The Wolverines-Ice Dogs season series stands at 3-3 with six more games between them on the schedule. The playoffs are still a couple of months away, but the standings are starting to have meaning. Fairbanks leads the Midwest Division but by only two points over the Springfield Jr. Blues. Anchorage is third, but three teams are within four points. Four teams from each of the four divisions make the postseason.
X factor. Ask any hockey coach what variable contributes the most to success, and they will all say penalties. Wolverines coach Mike Aikens is no different. He said Tuesday his team needs to “stay disciplined and not give (the Ice Dogs) power-play chances.”
Youth hockey. Fairbank sand the Ice Dogs put a premium on it. On Sunday, the Ice Dogs did a Skate the Lake event at Tanana Lakes. Encouraging kids to get into hockey is a win-win — it builds the fan base and helps create a local farm team. Two of the players on the roster, Kaden Milles and Billy Renfrew, are from Fairbanks.
Zarnke, Randy. Since retiring from Fish and Game in 2002, Zarnke has immersed himself in being a hockey historian, advocate, promoter, author and documentarian. The president of the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame is, along with Culley, codirector of Hockey Week. “We try to reach out to all sectors of the community, the super dedicated fan and the casual fan,” said Zarnke on Monday. “The time comes when it’s your time to give back.”
Ever selfless, Zarnke wasn’t talking about himself. He mentioned the Gold Kings all-time leading scorer, Tim Lee, who now serves as the Ice Dogs “stick boy” — which is more important than it sounds. On top of handing players the correct replacement stick after they break one — lefties don’t want right-handed sticks and the stickhandlers who play forward don’t want the 6-foot-3 defenseman’s stick. He also sharpens skates, keeps gear in order, hockey tape handy and water bottles topped off.
“When the team goes on the road,” said Zarnke in an email, “The ‘stick boy’ has to organize and pack all that same stuff for the trip.”
Count on the Ice Dogs having everything they need this weekend for the latest installment in Alaska’s newest rivalry.