Thought 30 degrees at last month’s NHL Winter Classic in Chicago was cold? That doesn’t hold a candle to the single-digit-to-subzero temperatures expected this weekend in Fairbanks, Alaska.
That’s where the host Ice Dogs and Alaska Avalanche will square off in the first-ever USA Hockey-sanctioned outdoor junior game, which will take place on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Alaska time.
“We wouldn’t want it any other way,” Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt said of Fairbanks’ frigid February temps. “It’s perfect.”
And a perfect way for the North American Hockey League to salute Hockey Weekend Across America, a USA Hockey initiative designed to celebrate hockey and all those involved in the game at all levels and also expose the game to additional audiences to attract more players, coaches, officials, volunteers and fans to the sport.
“I can’t think of a better place to play a game like this,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “And to showcase it on one of the most visible hockey weekends in the country makes it that much more exciting.”
For the hearty folks of Fairbanks, who embrace their winters like no others, the first-of-its-kind spectacle has turned into much more than just a hockey game.
With the outdoor rink located on a field next to the Ice Dogs’ usual home, Big Dipper Ice Arena, the event will take on a carnival-like atmosphere with a variety of food kiosks, including an aptly named outdoor “BrrrBBQ,” as well as a beer garden.
And outdoor promotions will range from an eight-person hot tub giveaway and an outdoor sumo-wrestling event, along with a best-dressed Alaskan fan and a snow dig for diamonds contest.
That and celebritized Alaska Governor and self-proclaimed hockey mom Sarah Palin, a supporter of all three NAHL teams in Alaska, will drop the ceremonial first puck.
“The game is the centerpiece, but there’s so much more going on that the entire community is rallying around and really getting excited about,” said Proffitt, who is expecting over 2,000 in attendance. “This is what wintertime in Fairbanks is all about.”
The game, a battle between two West Division foes, will be split into four, 15-minutes quarters. Snow bleachers have been constructed around the rink, which is enclosed by a chain-linked fence acting as hockey glass. Lights and a scoreboard will also be in place, along with a sound system.
To help quell the chill, the players will wear helmet and glove liners and heaters will be positioned near the teams’ benches.
“Something to help keep the edge off,” said Proffitt.
Along with all of the local buzz, the outdoor game is also garnering national recognition, as The History Channel will be on hand to film some of the festivities to air on its show, “Ice Road Truckers.”
All the fanfare aside, what’s most important to Proffitt, a player with the Alaska Gold Kings of the West Coast League back in the mid-1990’s, is bringing hockey in Alaska back to its roots.
“There’s a lot of history here,” he said.
And another chapter will be written on Friday.
Watch the outdoor game live via B2 Networks.