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Both Division I hockey programs in Alaska have a storied history of facing one another on the ice. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because of the proximity of these two teams compared to the other U.S. college hockey programs of the contiguous 48 states. However, up until recently, we at College Hockey History believed the rivalry between the Alaska Nanooks and Alaska Anchorage Seawolves began in 1979. That happens to be the year when Alaska Anchorage launched its varsity men’s hockey program. The teams from Fairbanks and Anchorage faced each other eight times during that 1979-80 season. But the history goes back a lot further than that. We recently discovered photos of these schools playing one another on the ice in 1935.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ first year of hockey was 1925. The program played that one season and then discontinued hockey until 1932. At the time, the team was referred to as the Alaska Polar Bears or U of A Polar Bears. The school changed its nickname to the Nanooks in 1963. Nanook is a derivation of nanuq, which is the Inupiaq word for polar bear. On the other side, the University of Alaska Anchorage formally began its varsity hockey program in 1979 within Division II and made the leap to Division I in 1984. Prior to 1979, the school must have put together an informal team without varsity status many decades prior.

The featured photo is from 1935 and is a hockey game between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It appears to be played on the frozen Chena River according to the description of the photograph. The Northern Commercial Company building is shown on the shore in the background. The Cushman Street Bridge is out of frame to the left. Spectators would line up on the bridge during big games. This is presumably photo evidence of the first game played between these two schools as another photo states that the 1935 team was the first hockey team organized by Alaska Anchorage.

Flash forward eighty-seven years and these two programs will play one another at the Carlson Center this weekend – less than two miles away from that first meeting on the river. These two hockey programs have gone through a lot of changes since 1935. At this point, both teams participate as independents within Division I. It’s Alaska Anchorage’s first season back on the ice since the 2019-20 season. In fact, the Nanooks and Seawolves last played one another February 29, 2020; mere days before COVID-19 shut down that season. The teams will begin play for the Governor’s Cup this weekend. This is an award given to the winner of the most games between the two hockey programs throughout each season. While the schools formally began the rivalry on the ice in 1979 and started the Governor’s Cup in 1994, these upcoming games will be the renewal of a rivalry that began nearly 90 years ago.

Photo Credit: Culhane family photographs, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

USC and Minnesota met in game 2 of the series March 26, 1938, as described in the Daily Trojan.
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This is Part 2 of a two-part series where we look back at the unique two-game series between the USC Trojans and Minnesota Golden Gophers that took place more than 83 years ago. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

On March 26, 1938, USC and Minnesota faced off for game two of their series in Los Angeles. The Trojans defeated the heavily-favored Gophers 5-2 just two days beforehand. Minnesota had hoped to jump out to an early lead to quiet the packed Polar Palace arena crowd in Hollywood. It looked like they may be in luck early on as the Gophers were awarded a power play in the first period. Unfortunately for the away team, they gave up the puck in front of the USC net and Herm Schaller skated the length of the ice to tally a short-handed goal for USC to make it 1-0. The Trojans extended the lead to 3-0 on two second period goals from Bennie Novicki. The Gophers gained a little momentum back when Bill Bredeson scored at the end of the second period making it 3-1 heading into the third.

Eventually the Gophers tied it up 3-3 with two unanswered goals in the final frame. However, USC stood tall and wouldn’t back down. Earl Robson stole the puck from the legendary John Mariucci and scored the game winner with less than two minutes to go in regulation. The Saturday night game ended 4-3 in favor of the home team and earned the Trojan hockey team a sweep of the Big Ten champion Gophers.

The Gophers would head north three days later to Washington to face Gonzaga in the last game of the three-game West Coast trip. The team lost 5-1 in the only hockey contest to date between the two schools. The Trojans and Gophers would face off again the following season. USC traveled east to Minnesota just nine months later. The cold weeknights in December didn’t faze the Trojans as they swept the Gophers yet again; accounting for one third of Minnesota’s losses in the 1938-39 season. The early series set the tone for USC that season with the Trojans eventually regaining their Pacific coast championship from Loyola in 1939.

December 1938 would be the last time these two teams shared the ice together. Eighty-two years later USC can still claim they are undefeated against the Minnesota hockey team with a 4-0 record.

The golden state of California was home to very talented college hockey teams in the 1930s. Yes, you read that right. In fact, these teams would routinely put up great competition against the best that the United States and Canada had to offer. USC and Loyola dominated the four-team league in California. We highlighted these two teams in our coverage of the 1930s in our U.S. College Hockey History summary.

Today we’re focusing on the first time the Golden Gophers of Minnesota visited Los Angeles to take on the host USC Trojans on March 24, 1938. USC had recently lost the league championship to Loyola the previous week. This marked four championships in a row for Loyola. It had to have stung the Trojans who were hoping to regain the West Coast title they routinely touted in the early 1930s. The heavily-favored Gophers were the reigning Big Ten champions. It was rumored that the Gophers purposely avoided Loyola on the team’s West Coast tour due to the alleged “poaching” of Minnesota’s Iron Range prospects by the Loyola team. USC hockey teams routinely included players from Canada, Minnesota and Massachusetts but there was no ill will between the two universities.

The indoor Polar Palace arena was packed with 3,500 spectators who wanted to see how this West Coast-Midwest tilt was going to shape up. They were treated to a fast-paced game from the opening puck drop. Both teams had four shots on goal within the first two minutes of regulation. Nat Harty of USC broke the proverbial ice five minutes into the game. The Trojans would jump out to a 2-0 lead later in the first period. The Gophers were able to get on the board in the final period to cut it to 2-1. Minnesota was able to narrow the lead to one goal again later in the final period but the Trojans scored twice in 20 seconds and took the opening game of the series 5-2.

Leading the Trojans that night was the team’s senior captain Nat Harty with two goals. The Daily Trojan applauded goalie Jerry Beranek as well as defensemen Al Fitzgerald and Howie Smith for bottling up Minnesota sophomore John Mariucci. The paper claimed it was the first time in Mariucci’s college career where he was held scoreless in a game.

Nat Harty captained the Southern California Trojans in 1938

In Part 2 of our USC-Minnesota series, we will highlight the second game that took place on Saturday, March 26, 1938.

Photo Credit: USC Digital Library. The Daily Trojan Collection

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On July 23, 1987, the Alabama Huntsville athletic department called a press conference. The school’s hockey team had just completed a 20-win season – its first in Division II. The university announced that the Chargers hockey team was elevating its program to Division I – effective immediately. The NCAA did not sponsor Division II hockey so the move allowed the school to play against the best competition at the collegiate level with a chance to participate in the NCAA postseason.

The Chargers first opponent in Division I was the Maine Black Bears on October 30, 1987. It was a true test to start this new era as the Black Bears were nationally ranked and coming off a 24-win season that ended in the national tournament. The Chargers put two goals on the scoreboard that evening but it wasn’t enough as Maine defeated the host team 8-2.

The Chargers ended their inaugural Division I season with an 11-18-1 record. The schedule for the 1987-88 season was a mix between Division I and II opponents. It is common for programs to schedule a mix of Division I opponents in the first season at the highest collegiate level. The season saw the team travel to Alaska in December to play a total of four games against Alaska and Alaska Anchorage in six days. The Chargers also faced off against St. Cloud State four times in the month of February. The season ended on a high note with a victory over Queens University of Ontario in the Alabama Face-Off Tournament that the school hosted.

As with all hockey programs, Alabama Huntsville has had its ups and downs throughout the years. The program dropped back down to Division II in 1992 and ended up winning two national championships over Bemidji State in 1996 and 1998. After six seasons in Division II, it was elevated back to Division I in 1998 and then joined its first Division I conference – College Hockey America – in 1999. The Chargers participated in two Division I national tournament games; losing both in 2007 and 2010. Alabama Huntsville was admitted to the WCHA conference in 2013. It was an historic moment for this program. On its own proverbial island, the Chargers hockey team is a one-of-a-kind program in the southern United States. This is a program that has defied the odds and keeps pushing forward.

Its toughest test yet came seven years later. In response to COVID-19, Alabama Huntsville announced in May 2020 that the hockey program would be discontinued. However, the university stated that the program would be reinstated if the community could raise $750,000. Pledges from alumni and the general public surpassed that goal in one week so the program ended up participating in the WCHA for the 2020-21 season. With the majority of teams in the WCHA leaving to create a newly-reformed CCHA for the 2021-22 season, Alabama Huntsville announced on May 5, 2021, that the university was suspending the hockey program. The school officials and the alumni group that helped provide funds the previous season had both agreed to discontinue the program if they were unable to secure a new conference. There is a caveat that the hockey program will be reinstated if a new conference can be secured. If that happens, Alabama Huntsville will not be eligible for conference play for at least one year after receiving an invitation. This leaves the door open for a possible return in 2022-23.

If we’ve learned one thing about college hockey over the past eight seasons, it’s that the conference structure is not set in stone. There have been major conference realignments as well as several new teams that have joined Division I. While it looks almost certain that Alabama Huntsville won’t play hockey in the 2021-22 season, we’re not going to rule anything out regarding its future. A conference invitation could be in its future along with a new lease on life for the Alabama Huntsville Chargers hockey team.

Photo Credit: UAH Magazine, Winter 1988. Archives and Special Collections, M. Louis Salmon Library at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.