A maroon and white placard purports to a “Meeting Room” existing through the nearby doorway and up the stairwell in Ben Boeke Arena’s southwest corner heights.

Since the Anchorage Wolverines last played a North American Hockey League home game inside the nearly 50-year-old barn more than month ago, the organization transformed the space into something else entirely.

“Feels more like a home,” director of hockey operations Keith Morris said. “Our players can now really feel like they have their own space.”

Playing at Boeke for the first time since Dec. 10, the Wolverines scored a critical 4-2 win on Friday versus rival Kenai River. Alaskans Aiden Westin, Revy Mack, Trent Powell and Andy Ramsey each recorded a point in the victory, Anchorage’s sixth in its last 10 games.

The Wolverines celebrate a goal. Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

Mack, a former West High all-stater, notched his second score in 10 games played with the Wolverines on a breakaway at 14 minutes, 55 seconds of Anchorage’s three-goal first period. Powell delivered his 11th assist of the season on the play.

Anchorage (15-13-6) and Kenai River (19-17-2) close out the weekend series in a rematch Saturday night at 7. The Wolverines own a 4-1-2 record against the Brown Bears and increased their lead in the Alaska Airlines Club 49 race for state supremacy over both Fairbanks and Kenai River.

“A huge win for us in what is obviously a big rivalry,” Powell said. “The Club 49 (prize) means a lot to us as well. A big two points, too.”

For the duration of the Wolverines’ almost two-year existence, the team used the upstairs room stashed between Boeke’s two rinks. Anchorage and opponents would dress separated by only a curtain and parade up and down two different sets of stairs – old Chicago Stadium style – to get to the ice, skate guards on blades until getting to the playing level.

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

“Those abandoned skate guards in the hallway near the rink have always been a Wolverines thing,” said Kari Ellsworth, who owns the team along with husband John, Marissa Flannery and Aaron Schutt, and Jena and Jay Frawner.

The NAHL’s Junior A Tier II guidelines mandated space be made available. But that’s all the room really was, a space featuring folding chairs and gear on the floor. That was until billets (host family) Amanda Johnson and Steve Leonard stepped in with a donation while the Wolverines played Outside and enjoyed a holiday break.

Head up the southwest corner stairs, make a few turns and you can’t help but see some legitimacy. A wall was put in place. Each Wolverines player now has a portable stall complete with a name plate that includes name, jersey number and hometown.

“Correct, the name plates are new,” Ellsworth said. “They weren’t here before taped to the (folding) chairs.”

Powell said the players immediately fell in love with what they saw.

“It was a pretty special moment after sitting in those chairs for two years,” Powell said. “Getting those (stalls) was a big step for us and a big step for the organization.”

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

It’s no secret, no one associated with the Wolverines expected to play seasons one and two at Boeke, which opened in the mid 1970s. The initial idea was to play at neighboring Sullivan Arena and harken back to the glory days of UAA (college) and the Alaska Aces (pro), but once again the 6,500-seat arena is being used as a homeless shelter.

“Yes, we’re helping part of our community that’s struggling but we know the arena was never meant for that,” Morris said. “It leaves us in a depressing situation. There is empathy, but also frustration felt by many.”

To the Wolverines’ credit, the organization has clearly made the best of it at Boeke. Besides the dressing room improvements and other amenities, the team showcases a healthy relationship with numerous businesses. The main rink’s dasher boards are full of sponsors and Ellsworth said new season-ticket buyers continue to come on board.

“Nothing but bright spots,” she said.

The brain trust behind the team is also smart. The dressing room stalls are portable and can be moved if and when the time comes for better accommodations. It’s impossible to guess what the city of Anchorage, the citizenry, will do in terms of a hockey facility, if anything, either for the Wolverines, UAA or both. Ellsworth and Morris said they hope that by this time next year, some kind of clearer picture will emerge.

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

One thing the refurbished dressing room couldn’t hide? The smell of a hockey team holding court for 18 or so months.

“It was going to stink either way,” Powell said. “But one of the changes is now you want to keep your stall clean.”
 

ONE-TIMERS
  • Early Friday, the Wolverines announced 19-year-old skater Fedya Nikolayeneya committed to join UAF in 2024-25. He’s expected to play for the Wolverines next season before heading to the Golden Heart City. Nikolayeneya, from Minsk, Belarus, played three games for NAHL Corpus Christi before arriving in Anchorage in late September. He’s produced 10-9—19 totals in 24 games with the Wolverines. Nikolayeneya’s announcement continues a nice little pipeline of talent between Anchorage’s NAHL squads and the state’s two NCAA Division I programs. Last week, Westin changed commitments from UAF to UAA, becoming the first Wolverine to connect with the resurrected Seawolves. Westin (34 19-22—41) ranks fifth overall in NAHL scoring.
  • Ramsey, the Wolverines captain, will represent the team at the 2023 NAHL Top Prospects tournament in February. Action is set to take place at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice facility. “The NAHL Top Prospects tournament is the most unique event we host because its sole purpose is to provide those players that are still uncommitted a great opportunity to play in front of hundreds of NCAA and NHL scouts,” NAHL commissioner and president Mark Frankenfield said. Anchorage locals Clay Allen, Cam Morris and Cooper Morris represented the Wolverines at the Top Prospects tournament last season. Ramsey’s furnished 0-14—14 numbers and is plus-4 in 30 games this season.
  • Anchorage’s last home game Dec. 10 resulted in an 11-3 Wolverines victory over Kenai River and featured 187 combined penalty minutes, 141 against the Brown Bears. The teams only combined for 28 penalty minutes Friday.
  • Fairbanks currently leads the NAHL Midwest Division with 41 points in 37 games played. Kenai River is fifth with 40 points in 38 contests, while Anchorage is seventh with 36 points. But it enjoys multiple games in hand. It should be a wild race to see which four Midwest squads qualify for the Robertson Cup playoffs.
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