The sport of hockey has always been a beloved pastime in North America. From the National Hockey League (NHL) to college and high school teams, hockey has a strong following in both the United States and Canada. But in recent years, a new player has emerged in the world of minor hockey – the state of Alaska. This seemingly unassuming state has quietly built a reputation as a powerhouse in the minor hockey world, and with their recent success, it’s clear that Alaska is a dynasty in the making.
Hockey has long been a part of the Alaskan culture. The cold, harsh winters make for perfect conditions to support the growth of hockey in the state. In fact, the earliest records of organized hockey in Alaska date back to the 1920s, when the city of Fairbanks formed the first hockey league in the state. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Alaska truly emerged as a hockey force to be reckoned with.
The Turning Point: Sullivan Arena
In 1995, the city of Anchorage opened its new sports and entertainment venue, the Sullivan Arena. This state-of-the-art facility quickly became the home of the Alaska Aces, a professional hockey team that played in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). The Aces’ success on the ice drew in large crowds and solidified Alaska as a hockey-loving state.
But more importantly, the Sullivan Arena became a hub for minor hockey in the state. The arena’s ice rink became the training ground for young Alaskan players, and it wasn’t long before their skills began to catch the attention of the rest of the world.
In 1998, the Anchorage North Stars, an amateur youth team, represented Alaska in the prestigious International Pee Wee Tournament in Quebec, Canada – a tournament that showcases some of the top youth hockey talent in the world. To the surprise of many, the North Stars made it all the way to the championship game, shutting out teams from hockey hotbeds like Canada and Russia. Although they ultimately fell short in the final game, their impressive performance put Alaska on the map as a rising power in minor hockey.
The Alaska Impact
Since then, Alaska’s impact on the minor hockey scene has only grown. The state’s geographic isolation meant that Alaskan teams were often left out of the major tournaments and showcases held in the lower 48 states. In response, Alaska began hosting its own tournaments, such as the Greatland State Shootout, to give their teams the opportunity to compete against high-level teams from outside the state.
This dedication to developing talent and providing opportunities for Alaskan players has paid off in a big way. In 2001, the Alaska All Stars, a AAA team made up of the top players from the state, became the first Alaskan team to win a North American AAA championship. Since then, the Alaska All Stars have won multiple national championships, solidifying their place as one of the top AAA teams in the country.
In addition to their impressive performances at the national level, Alaskan players have also made their presence known in the NHL. Current NHL players from Alaska include Jonathon Toews, Scott Gomez, and Matt Carle, among others. The state’s success in producing top talent has even caught the attention of the NHL, leading to the establishment of the Alaska Development Program, a joint initiative between the NHL and USA Hockey to identify and develop promising Alaskan players.
The Future of Alaska Hockey
Alaska’s dedication to the sport of hockey and the development of their players has undoubtedly put them on the map in the world of minor hockey. But their success doesn’t stop there. The state recently received approval from USA Hockey to host the 2022 National Junior Hockey Championships, a major accomplishment for the state and a testament to the growth of hockey in Alaska.
But Alaska’s rising status in the hockey world is not just about winning championships and producing NHL players. It’s also about the community and culture that surrounds the sport. Hockey has become a way of life for many Alaskans, and the sport has brought the state together in a way that few other things can.
It’s safe to say that the rise of Alaska in the world of minor hockey is no fluke. With the dedication and support of the state’s hockey community and the opportunity to compete on a national stage, Alaska is establishing itself as a true dynasty in the making. So keep an eye on this unlikely hockey powerhouse, because their success story is far from over.