ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As the Aces Alumni prepare to return to the ice this week we take a look back at the franchise's humble beginnings and rise to prominence in the professional ranks in three-part series leading up to Friday and Saturday's charity games.
The game will raise money for Toys for Tots and Armed Services YMCA. For more information on how to donate, or purchase tickets click here.
Aces hockey can be traced all the way back to the 1930s when a seniors men’s hockey team took the ice and played on an outdoor rink on Fireweed Lane. An Aces program from 1993-94 had a history of the team and said the team made their own ice, and hot-mopped between periods.
The spirit of that team would live on years later when former UAA hockey player Dennis Sorenson brought the team back.
“We needed something to do here locally, and we thought there would be a good draw for it,” said Sorenson.
After previous failed attempts to put together a senior men’s amateur team a unique set of circumstances brought hockey back in December of 1990.
“A Russian team got stuck here because of weather,” said Sorenson. “I got a phone call from the rink one night that said can you get a group together to play this club?”
Prominent local Anchorage hockey coach Dempsey Anderson suggested Sorenson call his new team the Aces, as a throwback to the 1930s Anchorage Men’s team. The newly-formed team would skate to a 3-3 tie, and lose in overtime to the Russians.
“We were all ex-UAA, and myself UAF college players like some local high school players,” said Keith Street, a member of that 1990-91 team.
Following that game Sorenson decided to secure ice time, a schedule and voilà!: the Anchorage Aces were in business.
“I was running it off my American Express Card and my sporting goods store,” said Sorenson. “It was difficult, we were making due, and nobody was getting paid we were just having a good time, putting on a pretty good brand of hockey of former college players
Playing and coaching Sorenson quickly found out the business of sports is expensive, and he didn’t have the deep pockets to keep the team on the ice.
“The big turning point for me is the first ownership group for me that helped me get it going, as the player-coach it was difficult to have friends on the team, and tell them who’s going to play when,” said Sorenson.
With financial backing, the team headed to the amateur national championships. The Aces took down in-state rival the Fairbanks Gold Kings on their home ice to win the team’s first-ever national title.
Building on momentum from their early success the Aces would make a name for themselves in the world of senior amateur hockey slowly creating a fan base in Anchorage.
"It was tough dealing with UAA (hockey) at the time because UAA was good, UAA was winning games in the early 90s, they were having great crowds, and were trying to build on their success just a different type of hockey,” said Sorenson.
The local hockey team would get another chance to face off with international talent when the Arctic Challenge came to Alaska in September of 1993 leading up to the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
The pre-Olympic hockey tournament was made up of Teams USA, Russia and Canada. Along with some of the world’s best was Team Alaska, made up of many players from the Aces roster.
Building a resume against national and high-level senior amateur teams the Aces would soon eye a leap to the pro ranks in 1995.
"We were all young enough where we had that passion to play at higher level than a local men's team," said Street.
In part Two of our series Wednesday we will explore the team's transition to becoming a pro hockey franchise, and the growing pains that came along with it.
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