Saturday, October 27, 2012


October 27, 2012

Mystery, Alaska promo poster

The opening scenes remain some of the most memorable for hockey lovers. It’s a tiny fairytale-ish town deep in snow where everyone loves ice skating and skate everywhere around the village. For hockey fans, “Mystery, Alaska” is in the Top 5 of most hockey movie lists. It’s a great little film about a people’s love of the greatest sport. Alaskans call their state Hockey Heaven. It’s easy to see why. With winter the most abundant season, ice is easy to come by.

The open frontier of our 50th State is made for winter sports. The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race is the most popular sporting event in Alaska. Started in 1973 as a test to push both dog teams and mushers, but now attracts more than 50 teams. The multi-day race pushes the limits in endurance for human and dog and if you get the chance to watch the highlights on television, I highly recommend it.

Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race

Also popular is downhill skiing. Alyeska Resort is the largest ski area in the state. With 650 inches of snowfall annually, it offers nearly year-round skiing. There are endless backcountry venues for adventurous skiers as well which are a mere helicopter ride away. Not only is downhill skiing popular, but cross country skiing holds court in Alaska. Sometimes, it’s a preferable way to get around. Literally millions of acres are open to the back country skier.   

In fact, being out in the ice and snow is what Alaska is all about. It’s not a place for the meek and mild. If you rely on others to do things for you, or prefer room service to making a meal for yourself, then you probably won’t last long in the Cold North. Hard work and efforts are rewarded with living through another season and sometimes a little extra. Men have made fortunes and lost them in Alaska.

With this pioneering spirit, it’s no wonder hockey is huge here. The Alaska Aces (ECHL) are the only professional hockey team in our largest state.  They started as the Anchorage Aces 1989 as semi-pro in the Pacific Southwest Hockey League. Then the Aces joined the Pacific Northwest Hockey League until the team went into the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL). The WCHL was merged into the ECHL in 2003.

The Aces have won the Kelly Cup (the championship title in the ECHL) twice, the first time in the 2005-06 season and the second in the 2010-11 season. This season the team is probably most known for having Brandon Dubinsky on the team, at least for the first part of the season during the NHL strike. He was with the New York Rangers last year, but was part of the large trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Rick Nash. Dubinsky is an Alaska native so if he can’t play in the NHL, it must be nice for him to at least be at home close to his family. Aces fans are rabid about their team. The team mascot is a large polar bear named Boomer and fans bring Aces’ cowbells to every game.

Boomer - Aces' Masoct

Besides pro-hockey, there are collegiate teams Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves and the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. In the Juniors, Alaska has three teams: the Alaska Avalanche, Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the Kenai River Brown Bears.

Tourists may only see Alaska while the sun shines endlessly in a brief summer sky, green pastures glow dotted with wildflowers, but real Alaskans know that Alaska lies on the wintry slopes, the snowy fields and the ice.

San Francisco will play three games this weekend in Anchorage. They lost the first 4-1 to the Aces. Tonight they pick it up where they left off and try to swing things their way.

As always, listen to the action on


Martha Hughes