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UAF Hockey Coach’s roots were planted, grown and have flourished in Fairbanks

Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 8:00 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Erik Largen has experienced every rank that the hockey town of Fairbanks, Alaska has to offer; from youth, to juniors, to the University’s Division I program. Born and raised in the Golden Heart City, the current Alaska Nanooks head coach got his hockey legs under him like many others in the area, skating for local programs like the Arctic Lions. His talents between the pipes crystallized at West Valley High, where he graduated in 2005 as the top goaltender in school history, holding records for career goals against average (2.03) and save percentage (.917). However, it didn’t always come that easy for Largen, and it was there where he developed his work ethic.

“I remember my freshman year, I was almost cut from the team and was the third goalie on the team,” Largen recalled. “I had to work my way up, so it was something that always just taught me to hard work and to be dedicated to it.”

After high school, Largen played for North American Hockey League (NAHL) programs North Iowa Outlaws (now the Chippewa Steel) and the Jamestown Ironmen (Jamestown Rebels). The game of hockey allowed him to make his first return to back home, enrolling at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he was a backup goaltender. After appearing in four games in two years, Largen hung up the skates for good.

Largen remained in Fairbanks after his playing days, where then Ice Dogs Head Coach and current General Manager Rob Proffitt, invited him to join his staff as a goaltending coach.

“It wasn’t something that I had intended to do, get into coaching or anything like that, I just figured that I would do it after college, but you don’t know exactly what you want to do,” Largen said. “You like hockey, so its like, ‘okay, sure, I will try this’ and it ends up becoming a career and a passion for you.”

Like many others in the Fairbanks community, Largen grew up watching the Alaska Gold Kings, Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the Alaska Nanooks. His awe of the skaters at the time gave him the current perspective of how important of a role his student-athletes play in the community.

“They were, you know, heroes to you right?” Largen said of looking up to hockey players in the area. “I hope our guys understand that, and I think that they do, just how big of an impact they make in the Fairbanks community. Not only with the time that they spend here, but also just the people that they meet, the kids that they meet and end up being heroes to them and big brothers to them.”

Largen’s coaching career began with immediate success, as the Ice Dogs hoisted the NAHL’s coveted Robertson Cup trophy in 2011, his second season with the organization. His first head-coaching gig came the year after, when he accepted the position with the Twin Cities Northern Lights, a Tier III Junior A hockey team in Bloomington, Minnesota. He led the squad to an impressive 87-9-2 record in two seasons, including a national runner-up finish in 2013. Largen then returned to the NAHL, this time as an assistant coach of the Janesville Jets. His participation in Janesville’s 2014-15 regular season title catapulted him to his first NCAA coaching job. Largen was named the head coach of Marian University, a DIII program in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where Sabres went 18-7-3 in his lone season with the school, finishing the season ranked 12th in the nation.

Hockey brought him back to Fairbanks a second time when he joined the UAF staff as an assistant under then head coach Dallas Ferguson. Ferguson left the DI program and was replaced by interim coach Lance West, with Largen continuing his role as an assistant. The head coaching position officially became available following his second season on the staff, and the University eventually selected Largen to become the 10th head coach of the program. At the time of hire, Largen was the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I hockey at 31-years old. His hockey career brought him back to Fairbanks once again, this time with a new addition.

“It is great that my daughter gets to be a part of this and just recognizing the Nanook Bear as ‘Dada’s work’, it is awesome,” he said. “I can’t express how lucky I am to be able to do this and to be able to grow a family here. I want to stay here for a long time, it is a great place and it is home to me. I have gotten bounced around to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota and it has led me to be able to come back home.”

As Largen was named head coach in 2018, the hockey program was considered for elimination, as the University reviewed options for their ongoing budgetary constraints. Since then, the Nanooks have remained standing, while their sister-school of Alaska Anchorage has officially discontinued their hockey program. The difference is in part due to the UAF administration’s repeated backing of athletics, as well as Fairbanks’ continuous support of now the state’s lone collegiate hockey program.

“Without Fairbanks, we would be nothing,” he said. “It is what makes it unique, it is the thing that we sell in recruiting; people are willing to do anything for you, they’re willing to give the shirts off their back, they’re willing to embrace you and the relationships that form here are just something that is irreplaceable.”

In each year since Largen was appointed head coach, the Nanooks have improved in the win column. He took over a program that went 11-22-3 (9-17-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) and added three wins to the conference win total (12-21-3, 12-14-2 WCHA). Last season, the Blue and Gold went 16-15-5 (14-9-5 WCHA), the first time the program posted a winning record and hosted a WCHA Playoff series since 2014-15.

The Nanooks are currently preparing for a WCHA-only season with full team practices. The puck is scheduled to drop on their season January 1, 2021 when they visit Lake Superior State University for a two-game series. UAF will play their home games this season at the Patty Ice Arena on campus without fans. Their Fairbanks-debut is set for January 8 when they host Northern Michigan University.

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