Sept 16, 2005: Fairbanks, Alaska.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5, Billings Bulls 3.
I was in Fairbanks to ride the Alaska Railroad south to Anchorage. To my delight, I found there was a hockey game the night before I left! The Ice Dogs play in the North American Hockey League. This is at the Junior A level. The league bills itself as a way to train at hockey while getting an education -- though from a look at the Ice Dogs' roster it didn't look like anyone was still in high school. As much as I can guess, Jr. A, at least the NAHL version, is a chance for players overlooked at high school to keep their careers alive, and make an impression on scouts -- either pro or college, as it preserves NCAA eligibility (unlike Canadian major junior).
It was opening weekend at the Big Dipper Arena. The arena, with about 2,000 seats, is run by the city rec department, and it has an unusual pedigree. The most unusual architectural feature: a mirrored ceiling. It was Saturday night, on the second night of a two-game opening series, and the Dogs drew a sizable crowd of all ages; lots of adults shooting the breeze, catching up with each other, while their kids got to romp around. A very good-spirited atmosphere. During an intermission, I walked over to the booster club table and talked to the head of the organization. He said the Ice Dogs usually draw pretty well; their primary competition for the hockey fan dollar is the University of Alaska team, which plays at the high-caliber NCAA Division 1 level. The Ice Dogs, he said, have one key competitive advantage: they can sell beer at their games. As I recall, they even sold very good beer.
It was a good game and a good time. If I lived in Fairbanks, I'd have season tickets.
Game sheet here.
It occurs to this blog that it may be the only blog alive to attend the home games of two different hockey teams with nickname Ice Dogs. Perhaps I should go for a trifecta.