University of Alaska Anchorage head hockey coach Matt Shasby had a big smile on his face Friday and even a little tear in his eye as he surveyed the scene at Seawolf Sports Complex.
After more than 30 months dormant, the Seawolves returned to the ice Friday to a packed house. Despite a 1-0 loss to Simon Fraser in an exhibition game, the atmosphere reflected a community that eagerly welcomed the team back.
Kids sat near the glass and yelled, the student section chanted and fans renewed old friendships, filling the rink to capacity.
“It was an amazing night for hockey in the city of Anchorage and the University of Alaska Anchorage,” Shasby said. “A win would have been the cherry on top but I’ll take what I got to witness in the crowd tonight, which is young hockey players watching UAA hockey again and fans showing up to support the team. Tonight was nothing but a victory overall.”
The team played another home exhibition Saturday — the Green & Gold Game — the final live preparation before the season starts in full next week against Western Michigan.
Neither team had a ton of great opportunities in the first period Friday, but UAA’s Joey Lamoreaux made a few key stops in the early going, including a point-blank stop on a breakaway.
“We literally have guys that haven’t played a hockey game in two years,” Shasby said. “It took a little while to adjust to just what the game feels like. We’ve got a long way to go but I think we got a lot accomplished in terms of just getting our guys in that pace again.”
The second period belonged to the Seawolves in every manner but on the scoreboard. They controlled the puck early on a 5-minute power play and continued to put quality shots on net. But UAA was unable to capitalize despite outshooting Simon Fraser 20-8 over the final two periods.
“I was happy with the whole game, especially the second and the third (periods),” Shasby said. “In the first we got caught off-guard a little bit but the ice flipped (for the rest of the game).”
The crowd continued to stay engaged as the two teams battled in a scoreless tie late into the third period. Finally Simon Fraser’s Mathieu Jallabert found an open net on a rebound and got it past Nolan Kent, who played the third period in net for UAA.
On Saturday, a pair of student-athletes from the UAA gymnastics team, sophomore Montana Fairbairn and freshman Avalon Angell were in attendance. Like hockey, their team was on the chopping block but revived itself after doing major fundraising.
“We hope that if we support them, they’ll come support us,” Fairbairn said. “I am definitely a hockey fan. I’m from Canada. So hockey is very big there.”
The two teams worked together during the fundraising and both gymnasts said to see that work pay off with live competitions was a great feeling.
“It’s so amazing,” Angell said.
Fairbairn said the revival of the two teams provided opportunities for more student-athletes to attend UAA and compete.
“I’m just glad more people at UAA get to experience college gymnastics and college hockey,” Fairbairn said.
Trevor Thompson had just done a tour of the campus and hopes to come to UAA next year. He was decked out in a UAA hockey jersey and a hat at Saturday’s game.
He lives outside of Seattle and hopes to study communications and a sports minor. He hopes to get involved with the hockey community in Alaska with plans to return to Washington and work for the Seattle Kraken. He returned after watching the Friday night tilt.
“I’m hoping I can get working here and at the other rink, Sullivan,” he said. “It’s really exciting to come watch.”
Shasby too, hopes that the excitement in the team will continue as the season progresses.
“What I saw tonight blew me away,” he said. “You kind of question it going into it if people are going to show up but I couldn’t be happier with what I saw from the crowd and the effort from the student body and everybody that was part of it.”
“I just want to thank everybody that came out. There were tears in my eyes looking at that crowd and seeing the energy coming from it.”