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Let’s Do That Hockey: Alaska’s NAHL teams open season (plus, Mac Swanson, Camden Shasby USHL notes)

by | Sep 10, 2023 | Cover Story, Hockey

Two of Alaska’s three entries in the North American Hockey League – the Anchorage Wolverines and Kenai River Brown Bears – opened their seasons Saturday with convincing road victories.

The other Alaska team – the Fairbanks Ice Dogs – did not flourish. They lost their opener Friday on the road against the Janesville Jets and endured the same result Saturday against the Jets.

The Wolverines made head coach Nick Walters’ debut as bench boss a success with a 5-1 win. They rolled to a 3-0 lead through two periods, led 4-0 midway through the third period and savored a 31-save performance from Slovakian goaltender Josef Zilinec (31 saves).

Kenai River used Conor Sullivan’s 43 saves to secure a 6-1 win against the Chippewa Steel. Great start for Sullivan, who could use it. The Massachusetts native played last season for the British Columbia Hockey League’s Merritt Centennials, who were the second-worst team on the 18-team circuit. Sullivan’s goals-against average (6.70) and save percentage (.858) were both league lows. But – new season, new slate.

Fairbanks fell 5-4 to Janesville on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday.

The Alaska teams continue their season Wednesday at the 20th annual NAHL Showcase, which brings all 32 league clubs to Blaine, Minn., where each team will play four games in four days. The Alaska teams all remain on the road after the Showcase for more games before returning to Alaska to open their home schedules.

Kenai River was the only Alaska team last season to qualify for the Robertson Cup playoffs.

Anchorage features seven Alaska players. Fairbanks and Kenai River each have just one Alaskan rostered.

Another U.S.-based junior league, the United States Hockey League, which is the nation’s top junior circuit and includes Alaskans each season, opens its regular season Sept. 20-25 with the annual USHL Fall Classic in Pittsburgh. All 16 teams will play two games in the Classic.

The USHL preseason opened over the weekend and Anchorage’s Mac Swanson, an All-Rookie Team forward last season, picked up where he left off for the Fargo Force. Swanson racked 2-3—5 totals and a plus-5 rating in two games. He delivered one goal and one assist in Friday’s 4-2 win over Waterloo, and one goal and two helpers in a 6-3 victory over Omaha. Swanson, who is NHL draft-eligible in 2024, is committed to North Dakota.

Fargo defenseman Camden Shasby of Anchorage, ticketed for Western Michigan, contributed an assist against Waterloo.

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