It’s been more than 930 days since a hockey team representing the University of Alaska Anchorage took to the ice.
But there has been no shortage of activity within the program in the subsequent months since the Seawolves’ last game — a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota State Mavericks on March 7, 2020.
The program was eliminated by the University of Alaska Board of Regents as a cost-saving measure in September 2020, reinstated in August 2021 and now sits on the cusp of returning to play.
UAA kicks off its season with an exhibition home game at 7 pm Friday against Simon Fraser at the Seawolf Sports Complex.
Seawolves first-year head coach Matt Shasby said the team is predictably thrilled to return to competition. The team will hold the Green & Gold Game on Saturday at 3 pm before starting the season in full by hosting Western Michigan next weekend.
“The players are extremely excited,” he said. “Our freshmen are excited to play college hockey for the first time and I think all of our transfers are excited to establish themselves as legitimate Division I hockey players. That’s what we’re looking for.”
But unlike previous incarnations of the Seawolves, this team is completely new and novel, made up of transfers and incoming freshmen who haven’t played together.
“It’s super unique,” senior goalie Joey Lamoreaux said. “There’s nothing like this out there. Everyone’s bringing different pieces of the puzzle from what they’ve learned from other teams or their schools or in juniors so everyone’s kind of bringing their own knowledge and bringing it together to Anchorage.”
While the team has been practicing for three weeks and has installed some generic systems, this weekend will truly be a proving ground for the players, according to Shasby.
“Every kid is starting out with a clean slate,” he said. “Typically if you’re coming back whether it’s your second year, third year, fourth year in college hockey, the coach has a predetermined opinion and has a slated spot for you. We preach these kids from day one is every position is open, whether it’s first line through fifth line or starting goaltender.”
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He said he expects the team to have a blue-collar work ethic but the Seawolves do have talent with 15 Division I players they recruited for their return season.
“When fans show up and they watch us play, they’re gonna appreciate the style of hockey, we’re gonna play,” he said. “We’re not going to back down from anybody and just have a ton of grit and a ton of pace to our game. I think the fans are going to enjoy watching.”
With their status cemented, Shasby said the Seawolves hope to establish a link to the city’s hockey fan base and develop long-term connections.
“The hockey community, I think, is extremely excited for (Friday) night,” he said. “It’s been a huge hole within our community, just having something to go to and watch hockey at its highest level. And I think when people come (Friday) night they’re going to realize how incredible of a product college hockey is. We’re trying to reestablish those fans for the next generation young hockey players and young families.”
Lamoreaux, a Wisconsin native who played at St. Cloud State (Minn.) said the players have already gotten plenty of community feedback since they arrived in town.
“People are noticing … and they’re super excited to have hockey back here in Anchorage,” he said. “That brings even more excitement to us to you know, to one win for them.”
The Seawolves return as a Division I independent after their long run as a member of the now-defunct Western Collegiate Hockey Association. So Shasby said the Seawolves will turn to their in-state rival, UAF, to use as a measuring stick this season.
The two teams play six games, including a home-and-home series in the middle of December and a third series in late January with each team hosting a game.
“Early on it’s just to establish ourselves as being competitive on a variety of levels within college hockey,” Shasby said. “Ideally, we’re building for that Governor’s Cup right before Christmas. And that’s probably our No. 1 goal is to win the Governor’s Cup this year and try and create an instant rivalry, reestablish the rivalry with Fairbanks.”
In total, the team will have 13 home games after this weekend at the Seawolf Sports Complex.
“I’m extremely excited,” Shasby said. “I tell everybody I see, ‘We’re gonna have the best 800-seat arena in college hockey.’ “