"Rob, we really need to put a team into Fairbanks." I said to Rob Proffitt, at Anchorage's Ben Boeke Arena, back in the spring of 1997.
Jack Knue, Dave Childers, and I had started the Anchorage Arctic Ice two years before. The first season (95-96) ended with a National Championship and the second (96-97) was our first year in the Western States Hockey League. That second season was a challenge. Playing all of our home games at Sullivan Arena, we worked hard to make a name for ourselves and overcome the incredible travel budget needed to take part in the league.
Don Thorne, the WSHL Commissioner at the time, believed in Alaska hockey, and allowed me to build a group that could form a new Alaska division for the 1997-98 season. Getting Anchorage to go along with the plan was initially difficult, but the pieces eventually fell into place.
That fateful spring, we were able to form the Mat-Su Sinbad Sailors (coached by current Fresno Monsters boss Eric Ballard), my Peninsula Hellfighters, along with Rob Proffitt, Jack Tragis, and the Fairbanks Artic Lions Club's Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
We had also done a ton of work to help form the Yukon Claimjumpers, a team over in Whitehorse. Eventually the Claimjumpers joined the group as well.
A lot of people were not pleased with the formation of the Alaska Division. Guys like Dennis Sorenson downplayed the chances of our success to the Anchorage Daily News in a 1997 article.
That first year was a challenge, and a tough dose of reality to swallow. Somehow, every scheduled game was played despite my own team being drastically underfunded. Guys like Andrew Carmichael, then the manager at the Central Peninsula Sports Center, and Tragis made sure that every game was played.
My son, Christian, was born at the end of that season, with a facial deformity that required specialized treatment. We eventually moved to Florida, to be closer to Shiner's Hospital, where he has been treated for his entire life. Today my son is vibrant thirteen-year old and growing faster than I ever wanted him to.
I miss Alaska, and do a lot of second-guessing in regards to the decisions made during that 1997-98 season. Eric Ballard, Jack Tragis, and I all laugh about that season now and have become close friends as a result of the experience. I believe that we would still be on the Peninsula if I had giving Ballard the Hellfighters' coaching job. The folks in Soldotna believed in what we were doing and I am sad to have to say that I let them down.
Today the Peninsula has a successful Kenai River Brown Bears team, and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs get to carry the defending national champion honor into their fifteenth season.
Great job Fairbanks, you guys have carried the torch for Alaska junior hockey, and deserve your position on Top of the World. I will always be an Ice Dogs fan and look forward to getting back to Fairbanks next season.