UAF Hockey hopes to return to Carlson Center for 2021-22 season
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Carlson Center has been home to University of Alaska hockey since the largest facility in Interior Alaska opened its doors in 1990. This year, the Nanooks will skate at the Patty Ice Arena on campus as the Carlson Center, which is owned by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, is currently being held as an emergency COVID-19 center for hospital overflow. UAF Administration hopes playing at the significantly smaller venue, which currently seats about 800 to 900 fans, will be for just one year.
“Our program is identified with that venue as a place in which we play collegiate hockey,” said UAF Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Athletics Keith Champagne of the Carlson Center.
However, the future of the Carlson Center is still up in the air. The building has been owned by the borough for the last 30 years, but has been contracted out by an event management company throughout its history, currently operated by ASM Global. The borough’s contract with ASM Global expires at the end of June in 2021 and local officials are exploring all options, including renewing the contract, operating the building themselves or selling the building altogether.
“We have been monitoring the situation and we would love to continue to have that option and to be able to play ice hockey at the Carlson Center,” Champagne added. “Whatever configuration or whatever management [takes over], we would want to have that be our home the way the [Big] Dipper is the home of the [Fairbanks] Ice Dogs. If we could work out something with the Borough and whomever is managing the facility to have it still be the home of the Nanooks, we would love that.”
Previously, the University has explored moving the hockey team to the Patty Ice Arena permanently, but their new goal is to return to the Carlson Center after the upcoming season.
Another factor for returning to the Carlson Center for the 2021-22 season is UAF hockey’s conference affiliation, or lack thereof. In November of 2019, eight of the 10 schools that comprise the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) filed the necessary paperwork to leave the conference at the end of the 2020-21 season (Bemidji State University, Bowling Green State University, Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University, Michigan Tech University, Minnesota State University at Mankato, University of Alabama-Huntsville and Northern Michigan University). The University of Alaska is currently searching for new conference to call home and most require a certain criteria before joining.
“We have to have a certain sized facility to play in and at this point that arena is still the Carlson Center,” Champagne said. “Whoever we are invited to join or be affiliated with as a conference, they want at least a 2,800 or 3,800-seat arena to play in and that serves us and our chances of finding a conference home or an association home in the future.”
The Carlson Center can currently seat up to 4,595 fans. If UAF does not find a conference home before the start of next season, they will look to compete in an independent schedule.
“We are not afraid to play as independent if we have to because we believe in our iconic hockey brand and that we could be successful as an independent, but it’s hard,” Champagne said. “You’re trying to schedule games and you’re dealing with travel subsidies. In a conference, you have the ability to schedule your games and you have the ability to be a part of a conference in terms of NCAA playoff berths.”
The Nanooks re-joined Division I in 1985, where they competed in the Great West Hockey Conference until 1992. After spending time as an independent program, UAF joined the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) as an affiliate member for the 1993-94 season. Alaska accepted their invitation to join the WCHA for the 2013-14 season, which has been their home conference since.
The puck will drop on their season January 1 when they visit Lake Superior State for a two-game series. The Nanooks will make their Fairbanks-debut January 8 against Northern Michigan University at the Patty Ice Arena without fans.
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