Peninsula hockey fans will receive a treat this weekend when the University of Alaska Anchorage program comes to town.
For the first time in its near two-decade history, the annual Green and Gold Game, contested by members of the University of Alaska Anchorage hockey team, will come to the peninsula.
The Seawolves will take to the Olympic-sized ice at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in what is a de facto hockey doubleheader. The Kenai River Brown Bears will take on the Minnesota Magicians at 7:30 p.m. for a North American Hockey League bout.
“We know that Kenai and Soldotna have a great hockey community, and with (UAA’s) bye week, we thought it’d be a cool idea to reach out and do something down there,” said UAA director of hockey operations Nick Walters.
The Seawolves have played in Soldotna before — an exhibition game at the sports complex Oct. 2, 2015, when UAA lost a 1-0 contest to Mt. Royal of Calgary, Canada.
But Saturday’s event will mark the first Green and Gold Game played on the peninsula. The Green and Gold Game has historically been held in Anchorage, shared between the Seawolf Sports Complex on campus and the Sullivan Arena, as well as the MTA Events Center in Palmer.
The Seawolves (0-2-0) will bring their best — Walters said all starters will be on ice — as UAA will treat the crowd to four-on-four play. Walters said the bye week for the team offered the perfect opportunity to get some more ice time early in the season.
“We want a good pace, but don’t want to kill the guys,” he said.
The game is meant to give the UAA hockey team and the entire Seawolves athletics program added exposure and a needed jolt after several uneasy seasons of budget cuts. In 2016, the university released a strategy report that proposed cutting the hockey program all together.
While that notion was eventually abandoned, this year brought more bad news. In July, the university’s Board of Regents declared financial exigency after the announcement of the 41% state funding cut from the state put the school’s athletic programs in peril.
Walters said with that in mind, head coach Matt Curley and the team began brainstorming ideas of broadening the program’s exposure and promoting the Seawolves brand in communities across Southcentral Alaska.
“It became, how do we branch out to places that we don’t normally get to?” Walters explained. “Budget cuts were part of it, but UAA also had that history. We’re moving back on campus now, and this goes to show the importance of not just hockey but athletics, which plays a huge role in the community.
“Hopefully it’s a good event this weekend, and something we can do more of in the future.”
Walters said after the Green and Gold Game, Seawolves players will spend time with the fans signing autographs and taking pictures.