The Anchorage Wolverines spent the first five weeks of their 2022-23 season in the North American Hockey League on the road.
Finally, the team that finished runner-up in last year’s Robertson Cup is finally getting a home date.
The Wolverines host the Janesville Jets in a pair of games Friday and Saturday at Ben Boeke Arena, with the puck set to drop at 7 p.m. both nights.
At 5-4-3, Anchorage is in sixth place in the Midwest Division but are coming off a two-game sweep over instate rival Fairbanks Ice Dogs earlier this month.
“That first road trip where we’re on the road for the first month ... was the hardest stretch out of the year,” Wolverines head coach Evan Trupp said. “And to come back with the record that we have, I’m definitely happy with that. We’re trending in the right direction.
The Wolverines have two returners from last year’s squad leading the way on offense. Jackson Reineke, 11 points, and Aiden Westin, 9 points, are the team’s top two scorers.
“It’s cool to see a lot of guys kind of accept bigger roles that were here last year,” Trupp said.
Another returner from last year is goalie Shane Soderwall. After spending a majority of last season backing up Raythan Robbins, Soderwall has been the main man in net so far. He’s posted a 4-4-1 record with a goals against average of 2.65.
“Raythan was a great guy,” Soderwall said. “He had a routine. He had specific things he did with his game and it obviously worked. I think learning from him was the biggest takeaway (from last year).”
The Wolverines took the NAHL by storm in their inaugural season, reaching the Robertson Cup finals and earning the league’s Franchise of the Year award. But Trupp said the team found out quickly that nothing will come easy in its second season.
“We’re not the same team as last year,” he said. “We’ve got to work for it. I think there was a little bit of an ego check at the beginning of the year and the guys had to look in the mirror and say, ‘They’re not going to hand it to us. It’s not just going to be given to us and we’ll have to work for it.’ ”
Returning home will allow for a reset for the team and start a schedule that will look more like what they’ll experience the rest of the season, Trupp said.
“We’re excited to get into a routine where we have our week of practice and our games,” he said. “We’re excited to be home and and just find that routine.”
Trupp, a first-year head coach who took over for Mike Aikens just before the regular season, said he’s still developing a coaching style. He’s from Anchorage, was an assistant last season and has a lengthy career both as a pro and collegiately.
“It’s been a learning curve, but it’s definitely it’s been a lot of fun so far,” he said. “And you know, I think it kind of clicks pretty quick for me and it’s fun. It’s been fun with this group of guys. It’s nice that I knew already knew all these guys beforehand and the staff as well.”
After playing their inaugural season at Ben Boeke Arena, the Wolverines had hoped to potentially call Sullivan Arena home this season. The arena has been the host facility for the Alaska Aces and UAA over the years.
But with the city once again converting the space into a homeless shelter earlier this month, the Wolverines made a deal within the last two weeks to return to Boeke in year two.
“I think everybody in the game of hockey is disappointed about Sullivan Arena not being back to a sports and entertainment facility,” said Keith Morris, Wolverines director of hockey operations. “But we’re happy that we were able to make a deal for year two here at Ben Boeke. The atmosphere at the rink is fantastic. Our ownership group and staff have done a tremendous job of making it a great atmosphere. And it really does give us a home ice advantage when the building is packed and it’s passionate hockey fans that are here watching us.”
Despite the uncertainty with this season’s home arena, Morris said the team is ready to get back in front of a home crowd.
“Our players are just excited and happy to be together and skating and they would play at Mulcahy (Stadium) if they had to,” he said.