UAA hockey returns to campus after 3 decades at Sullivan Arena
Last fall, newly hired University of Alaska Anchorage athletics director Greg Myford walked into the Wells Fargo Sports Complex to watch men's hockey practice. When he walked inside, he noticed UAA hockey legend Kelvin "Brush" Christiansen leaning against a railing watching practice as he often did.
"When I went a talked a little bit with Brush," Myford said. "I said, you know, this must have been an amazing venue when you were playing here. I could see this place rocking pretty good."
That's the environment Myford wanted for the program.
"Our collective role is to make sure that our students [...] have the best experience they can have while they're at UAA," Myford said. "When we look at going into a place like this, being able to build a fan base that comes out, gets behind the team and the team is able to play in front of a crowd, that you know you have a home ice advantage, that's us giving them the experience they should have as a UAA Seawolf."
The move back to campus severs a 36-year relationship with Sullivan Arena — it also saves the university over $200,000 a year, which was paid to the city of Anchorage to play in the arena.
"We'll have that savings but also there will be increased revenues," Beverly Shuford, vice chancellor for administrative services, said. "Currently, the Sullivan has the concessions, parking, other things that those revenues, we'll have at the university here now. So it's a win-win for us."
The sports complex is currently the home of Seawolf hockey for all aspects except home games, a release from UAA stated. The team practices there and the coaches’ offices, sports medicine facilities, the team’s locker room and equipment are all located there.
In a press conference Wednesday, UAA officials said a renovation project for the Wells Fargo Sports Complex in underway to increase seating capacity from 800 to 2,500. The project could cost an estimated $15 million, though the university is pursuing other estimates for the project.
Shuford said UAA is considering a combination of sponsorships, philanthropy, ticket sales, debt and other university revenue streams to help fund the renovation. Despite the upfront costs, bringing hockey back to campus will save money in the long term, she said.
Sullivan Arena general manager Greg Spears said he saw the move coming.
"This isn't a total surprise to us," he said. "We've read the news about the state's funding for the university dropping. We've seen the attendance dropping at UAA games as well. We've been contemplating moving toward this for quite some time."
Spears said he was notified Tuesday, one day before UAA made their plans public. UAA's agreement ends on Aug. 31 and Spears says it gives the Sullivan Arena plenty of time to help with the transition and find new bookings. Spears says the arena will always be supportive of UAA and there are no hard feelings.
Western Collegiate Hockey Association president and men’s league Commissioner Bill Robertson released a statement Wednesday about the decision to move:
“The University of Alaska Anchorage has notified the WCHA league office that it will move its home hockey games back on campus beginning with the upcoming 2019-20 season. At the same time, the university is finalizing a plan to expand seating at their Wells Fargo Sports Complex in the coming years.
Given the current budget climate in Alaska and the university’s commitment to men’s ice hockey, the WCHA supports this move and views it as a step towards strengthening the long-term viability of the Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey program.
UAA athletics officials have assured us that the facility will meet all other WCHA and NCAA requirements for hosting league contests in time for the upcoming season and throughout the renovation process.
The move should provide an improved atmosphere for Seawolves fans and student-athletes while raising the program’s profile on campus. The WCHA applauds these efforts and will work closely with the university throughout the renovation process to assure the facility meets all league and NCAA hosting requirements.”
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