The Seawolves will skate again.
The UAA hockey program is back in business following a year of fundraising that brought in more than $3 million from over 1,100 donors.
“It’s a great day to be a Seawolf,” UAA chancellor Sean Parnell told reporters Tuesday morning in the hockey locker room at the Seawolf Sports Center. “It’s our day to celebrate the reinstatement of the program.”
The team plans to return to action for the 2022-23 season. The Seawolves skipped last season because of COVID-19 and will take this season off to regroup after losing their coach and their players during the uncertainty of the last 12 months.
Tuesday marked a deadline imposed by the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents nearly a year ago. The regents eliminated the hockey program but tossed it a lifeline -- the program could survive if it could raise $3 million, enough to cover two years of operating costs.
The Save Seawolf Hockey fundraising campaign hit that mark on Monday.
“SCORED THE GW ~ $3M RAISED!” said an announcement on the campaign’s website.
“We’re ecstatic,” said hockey alumnus Jim Mayes, part of the Seawolf Hockey Alumni Association. “We’re looking forward to the future ... and building a strong program like we used to be in the past. There’s no reason why we can’t make this a strong program for years to come.”
The GW -- shorthand for game-winning goal -- was a team effort, said Save Seawolf Hockey chairwoman Kathie Bethard, the muscle and heart behind the fundraising effort.
Her group raised money by hosting hockey tournaments, hockey camps and golf tournaments, by running silent auctions, by reaching out to sources small and large.
“It wouldn’t have happened if the hockey community wouldn’t have stepped up and believed we could get this done,” Bethard said. “Thank you to everyone who donated, from $2 to $250,000.”
In all, $3.1 million was raised in cash and pledges, with more than half of that in cash. Bethard said.
Money came from 1,140 sources, she said -- from individuals, small businesses and corporations.
She said nearly two dozen committee members helped make the effort a success, and among those she singled out was the Benton Bay Lions Club, a longtime supporter of all UAA athletics.
“They allowed us to be able to raise money virtually, through the auctions and split the pots,” she said. “They also help with our golf tournament.”
Donations came from all over Alaska and across the United States, Bethard said. The campaign got a huge boost from the Seattle Kraken, the new NHL team in Seattle. The team and individuals associated with it donated some $150,000 in cash, plus the Kraken launched their own Save the Seawolves campaign.
The final $400,000 of the $3 million was raised in the last three weeks, a push spurred by a recent TV ad campaign.
“We had 70 individual contributions last week alone,” Bethard said.
Though the pressure of meeting the fundraising deadline is over, far more remains to be done to truly save UAA hockey. Asked which task is harder -- raising $3 million in a year or building a Division I college hockey team from scratch -- Parnell deflected.
“We’re here to celebrate the moment,” he said. “This is good news for Anchorage, for Alaska, for intercollegiate sports.”
After the press conference, UAA athletic director Greg Myford acknowledged the challenge ahead.
Not only are the Seawolves without a coach or players, the conference they played in -- the Western Collegiate Hockey Association -- has disbanded, leaving UAA and UAF without guaranteed opponents to fill up their schedules.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Myford said.
The first step is to hire a coach to replace Matt Curley, who resigned earlier this summer to take a coaching job in the U.S. Hockey League.
“The sooner the better,” said Myford, who has said the school has received more than 20 applicants for the job.
A new coach will have three immediate challenges, he said: “Recruiting, scheduling and establishing the culture.”
The team will also be looking for a new place to play. In order to reduce expenses, UAA in 2019 moved home games from spacious Sullivan Arena to its tiny on-campus rink, and most everyone agrees the team needs a bigger and better place to play in order to entice fans to games.
Wherever the team plays, Mayes wants to see the Seawolves rock the house they way they did back in the early 1990s when he was a member of the team.
“The kids who saw the Seawolves play then were Joey Crabbe, Scotty Gomez, Brian Swanson,” he said, ticking off names of Alaskans who went on to play in the NHL. “Kids now have never seen that arena full.
“... My goal in my lifetime is to see that arena full and the program be strong. We want to bring those young fans back and get the buzz back for college hockey.”