NAHL welcomes ‘Anchorage Wolverines’ for 2021-22, a new in-state rival for the Ice Dogs
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - This past weekend, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs swept the Kenai River Brown Bears, their lone in-state rival. For now.
The North American Hockey League has approved the membership application for an expansion team for the 2021-22 season; the Anchorage Wolverines, following the namesake of the city’s former Senior Amateur hockey team from 1973-78.
The new organization will compete alongside Fairbanks and Kenai River in the Midwest Division of the Tier II junior hockey league, joining with the Chippewa Steel, Janesville Jets, Minnesota Magicians, Minnesota Wilderness and the Springfield Jr. Blues.
In 2003, the ‘Dogs become the first NAHL program in Alaska, occupying the Big Dipper Ice Arena since. The Wasilla Spirit (later the Alaska Avalanche) was the next program formed in the 49th State, but was relocated and rebranded as the Johnstown Tomahawks (PA) in 2012. Alaska established a third program, Kenai River (Soldotna), in 2007 as the state will welcome a third team once again with the Wolverines joining the action.
Furthermore, the expansion provides stability to the junior hockey scene in Fairbanks and in the state.
“I think more than anything what our league showed is that they want Fairbanks and Kenai to stay around for a long time to come or they wouldn’t have approved Anchorage,” said Ice Dogs General Manager Rob Proffitt. “In early December, I wasn’t sure if we could continue on, right? Now with Anchorage coming in, I’d like to feel very confident to know that this is going to be another 25 or 50-year run, long after I am gone and I think it is going to be good for the kids and the youth of all of our communities, which is the reason we get up in the morning and do what we do.”
An imperative development for the Anchorage hockey community, who lost their mid-level professional Alaska Aces in 2017 and University’s Division I program is currently hanging in the balance.
“I think there’s going to be a bolster to youth hockey and inspire local youth players across the whole state being able to let them see what this level is,” added Proffitt. “Letting kids dream and having the players and the program interacting with the whole community, I think there are so many positives to it.”
The Anchorage Wolverines are owned by NAHTSIITH LLC, an entity owned and operated by Aaron Schutt, Ryan Binkley, John Ellsworth Jr, and Jay Frawner and Kai Binkley Sims, who will serve as the President of the organization, according to an NAHL press release
“Our focus will be to develop players to help them achieve their hockey goals. Their talent will be showcased in action packed games that will be community-oriented events,” said Sims in the release. “We are excited to begin building our team and working with the community to build our fan base, and form business partnerships. We hope everyone will connect with us on social media to be the first to hear more details on our official launch.”
A logo or home venue have not been released by the league or organization.
Proffitt also alluded to the possibility of an Alaskan-only division within the NAHL.
“I think it is another piece in the overall puzzle that we have had to try to get to four teams, have our own division and create long-term sustainability.” said Proffitt.
While neither of Alaska’s current NAHL teams have played in the state this season, the Ice Dogs and the Brown Bears will be welcomed back to their home state April 16 when they square off at the Soldotna Complex Center.
Fairbanks will host their Big Dipper debut series April 22-24 against the Janesville Jets.
“We have always been interested in expanding the NAHL in the West, but the situation has to be right to in order to grow NAHL Hockey,” said the league’s Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld. “The combination of the facility, the market, the history, and the wonderful ownership group brought forward as the Anchorage Wolverines is second to none. This organization is more than ready and capable to hit the ground sprinting and we look forward to how impactful they will be as members of the NAHL and our players in the very near future.”
Coming off three wins over eight days against their lone in-state rival (for now), the Ice Dogs will host the Steel at their home-away-from-home (for now), the Red Baron Arena in Marshall, Minnesota.
Winners of five of their last six games, Fairbanks sits in third place of the Midwest Division at 34 points, trailing the Magicians (39) and the Jets (40).
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