Alaska Anchorage Head Coach Mart Shasby knows what a new or remodeled rink on campus means. Sometime in the next two weeks an engineer will walk the current on campus building, the Seawolf Sports Complex , and present the reborn Alaska Anchorage Hockey program two choices. Remodel what is there to make it even better and put a rink in it , or build a new on campus rink for, ideally the 23-24 college hockey season .
Of course building a rink is one part of the equation. Shasby has already secured nine total commitments for next year featuring two transfers and seven freshmen. All of these players, as Shasby said “ every guy has a chip on their shoulder and is looking to prove people wrong.”
Of roster composition, Shasby wants to spread his distribution of classes out pretty evenly to ensure scholarship funds are available for years two and on. He is excited, and said of his work in getting almost ten comitts signed so far that “the roster building could not be going better at this point.” The plan is to get to twelve commits before the transfer portal season opens up, be active recruiting transfers to the beautiful town and environment that Alaska offers, and depending on spots left, add more players after that transfer recruitment.
Shasby added that he’s not seeing issues with convincing players to come to Anchorage and credits that in part to how players communicate. He said “as long as they have their cellphones they could be in Antarctica and they will be fine.” Part of Shasby’s work is in building a network of players from the area with outdoors backgrounds to show players from the lower 48 and around the world the natural beauty of Alaska. Shasby wrapped up his recruiting chat with saying that , “one of my biggest pitches is that you get to spend four years living in Alaska.” Shasby as an alum talks about living there and enjoying the full environment of Alaska. “We’re going to make this the best college experience that we can.”
Moving to the conference discussion folks are having, Shasby gave a bifurcated answer. first he said “obviously there’s concerns not being in a conference.. but I’ve actually enjoyed the experience of building a schedule.” The unique trips are almost a feature of the system for Shasby. He does see the concerns of not having a conference for the short run.
The second part of his answer was more forward thinking. He said “ further down the line, my goal is to help the Western teams that might be considering making the jump to Division One Hockey. The three year goal is to play those guys and help them as much as possible to convince their Athletic Departments to get convinced to make that jump.” He mentioned working to schedule games with the Oregon Ducks, more games with UNLV, and he’s had talks with Simon Fraser as well. For a western college hockey conference to form, the two Alaska schools need Arizona State and three more teams. Shasby’s advocacy for more programs to come up to the Division One Level could have an exponentially positive effect on this sport.
“We have had that conversation with Fairbanks to host two teams at Climate Pledge.” The Kraken brought it up to begin with. Starting a few years from now, Shasby has had discussions with the Seattle Kraken about hosting a tournament of some sorts where they co host with Alaska Fairbanks and invite two teams to play at Climate Pledge Arena.
As for going forward, Shasby proclaimed why he thinks this program is set for the long term because of the roots being laid down by the supporters of UAA Hockey.
“I think you just have to let people know that I think losing the program for the time period that it was gone woke a lot of people up. I think that’s happened with Seawolves Hockey. It’s a significantly different position.”
As for the immediate future Shasby said of their schedule over the first few years that it “will be incredibly competitive.”
The team opens against Colorado College on the road then sees UNLV at home. Following that they play against Fairbanks ( all Fairbanks series will be home and homes) , then head to UNLV to play the Rebels and Liberty each one time in Las Vegas. They then play Fairbanks followed by playing UMASS Lowell in Lowell for New Years. they play Long Island and UConn, and then Arizona State and Fairbanks.
They have 24 qualifying games Division One games right now , and are negotiating for more. The minimum to be tournament eligible is 20. He is offering hefty game guarantees to get more programs to come to Anchorage to play. Both Alaska schools have the game exemption which allows teams that travel there to not have their games in Alaska count towards the 34 game limit the NCAA allows of games to be played. Year two the schedule will get even better. He said that, “ I put our strength of schedule up against anyoke. They have games against UConn and Air Force already on the docket and are adding more top opponents. The team has an agreement to play the Pioneers of Denver in years three and four already set.
If you want this to be a story of a program happy to be back you certainly have it. This program while being happy to be back and grateful for the support it has is looking for more. From giving overlooked players another chance at Division One Hockey, to building a remodeled or new arena on campus, and putting the University of Alaska Anchorage back on the Division One map, this program lead by Shasby is building fast. Day by day and step by step, they are building a new frontier for the sport of College Hockey that will not only help them, but hopefully serve as a success story for other administrations to invite more schools into this wonderful game. This sport has too many great players wanting to play at its highest level, and not enough spots for it. With Shasby’s and the University of Alaska Anchorage’s help, that will be changing, starting next season. The Last Frontier is what the state of Alaska is called. A New Frontier for College Hockey to grow is what Shasby wants his program to be, and has the support of a university, and an international group of fans, businesses , and an NHL team ready to lead the way towards that superb goal.
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