Fairbanks, Kenai teams take ice in play to expand NAHL
Hockey action -- and plenty of it -- recently accompanied teams separated by hundreds of miles to a packed house at the Subway Sports Center in Anchorage.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the Kenai River Brown Bears took the ice to bring the North American Hockey League to the state's largest city.
"I'm liking it -- a lot of action," said fan Brian Sison, attending his first NAHL game. "A lot of action, fast-paced going on, a lot of hard hitting,"
The teams have brought their show on the road to Anchorage and Palmer in hopes of expanding the league with two more teams. That would give Alaska its own division, which has become a necessity rather than a luxury.
"It could cut our travel expenses, I think, by at least a third if not more than that," said Kenai general manager Nate Kiel.
The Brown Bears and Ice Dogs currently play in the league's Midwest Division. Their closest rivals are in Minnesota, and round-trip flights Outside for almost every game quickly add up -- let alone the costs of hosting visitors.
"Right now, we have to take care of visiting teams in our market for at least 60 days," Kiel said. "That's accommodations, meals and local transportation."
That's why the teams played in Anchorage and the Mat-Su: to gauge fan interest in the void left by last year's departure of the Alaska Aces.
How'd they do? Two nights of standing-room-only crowds, much to the delight of Fairbanks general manager Rob Proffitt.
"The optimistic part, or the vision part, check that box already," Proffitt said before the puck even hit the ice in Anchorage. "Now, we're in the working part."
Now comes the job of finding investors for the two teams, whose future now appears more firm.
"This will happen; it's just a matter of time," Proffitt said. "Obviously our target is 2019 -- that's going to be our vision."
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