UAA Athletics

The UAA hockey team is fighting for survival, and the Seattle Kraken are here to help

When the Seattle Kraken made a $100,000 donation to Save Seawolf Hockey last month, the NHL’s newest franchise was just warming up. Now they want their fans to get involved too — to get crackin’, if you will — in the effort to spare the UAA hockey team from elimination.

The Kraken’s donation is up to $150,000 now, an amount that includes team and individual contributions. And on Friday, the team launched a save-the-Seawolves campaign that includes an upcoming silent auction, a challenge to other corporations to join the cause and, most critically, long-term intentions.

“Here’s how fans can be part of boosting a sister Kraken hockey community,” the team’s website said atop a story about the Seattle team’s intent to save the Anchorage team.

Targeted for elimination back in September, the UAA hockey team must raise $3 million by Aug. 30 to stay alive. They’ve raised a little more than $1.8 million, an amount that includes the Kraken donation.

CEO Tod Leiweke is leading the charge for the Kraken, and his vision is grand.

“I’d love to see the (UAF) Nanooks play the Seawolves in our building,” he said. “The idea of hosting that in our brand-new arena — it’s cool.”

But first, the Seawolves need to survive. Enter the Kraken.

As a longtime sports executive — among other things, he’s the former CEO of the Seattle Seahawks — Leiweke recognizes Alaska as a potential source of support for the Kraken, who are slated to play their inaugural NHL season in 2021-22. As the head of an NHL team, he understands the importance of robust hockey programs at all levels of the sport.

“The territory of the team is a really important thing,” Leiweke said in an interview. “Back east, there is much more density of markets and a team’s territory can be 40, 50 miles. We have this vast territory of all of Washington, all of Oregon, and then Alaska. And Alaska I felt was such an important thing to us, because hockey is truly a native sport there.

“How can we not help when there are only two (NCAA) Division I teams in our territory? To see one go away would be a really sad turn of events.”

[Previous coverage: From one mythological sea creature another, Seawolves get a boost from the Kraken]

The Seawolves were among 60 NCAA Division I men’s hockey teams that played during the 2019-20 season, and they and the Nanooks of UAF are the only ones in the Pacific Northwest.

Saving the Seawolves was the topic of a Zoom conversation hosted by the Kraken on Friday that included UAA athletic director Greg Myford, UAA hockey coach Matt Curley, Save Seawolf Hockey chairwoman Kathie Bethard and Bristol Bay Native Corp. president Jason Metrokin.

Metrokin, who grew up in Anchorage playing hockey and following the Seawolves, said he met Leiweke several months ago in the course of doing business. Among the things they talked about was the Kraken’s desire to make Alaska part of its fan base.

“He said, ‘So how do we make a splash, how do we ensure our commitment to the state of Alaska?’ We talked about a number of things and the UAA hockey team came up as something in dire need of help,” Metrokin said.

Last month they got in touch with Bethard, whose sons both played college hockey (Todd at UAA, Brian at Colorado College). She has championed the cause of saving UAA hockey with persistence since the day the program was put on the chopping block, and she quickly converted Leiweke to the cause.

“There was no choice but to say, ‘How can we help?’ " he said.

“This isn’t about the Kraken,” Leiweke added. “Kathie all on her own has rallied a wide swath of this community and raised more than a million dollars (from) many minor donors.”

What’s needed now is corporate support, Metrokin said.

The Bristol Bay Native Corp. will make both a cash donation and a pledge of further support, he said, and he hopes other businesses will follow suit. Because donations go through the University of Alaska Foundation, businesses that contribute are eligible for tax education credits, he noted.

Another incentive: Leiweke said a night at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena is in store for UAA’s biggest supporters: “To honor those who are giving, we’ll host all of the major donors at an incredible special night at our arena.”

During a Zoom interview that included Bethard on Thursday, Leiweke sounded confident while admitting there’s still a long way to get to $3 million.

“We have work to do,” he said. “But we have time now, and momentum, and we’re unified and I like our chances, right, Kathie?”

“We’re going to make it, there’s no doubt about that,” Bethard responded. “We said that at the start, we just ran out of time. It was like a dream come true when I had my first conversation with Tod and Jason about six weeks ago. It’s going to be incredible, this partnership.”

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.