April 8, 2017 marked the commencement of the Alaska Aces. The dreadful fate of Alaska’s longtime professional hockey team was decided due to the declining financial state of the franchise.
The fateful Friday night led to a sold out, standing-room only crowd of over 6,000 fans. It was one of the largest crowds the Sullivan Arena and The Aces had seen in a long time; the crowd and the opposing team gathered to bid farewell and extend the goodbye.
Long time aces fan and Anchorage resident, Zachary Langlais, planned to go to the game for weeks to be able to see the team play one last time, but was surprised when he went to buy tickets.
“I didn’t realize how quickly they had sold out. I even started to browse online and talk to friends to see if I could buy a ticket that way, but the tickets were much more expensive than usual, and I had to end up missing the game,” Langlais said.
The away team, the Idaho Steelheads, gave tribute to the Aces following the game by remaining on the ice after the game finished. They proceeded to gently hit their sticks on the ice, similar to a clap, to give respect.
The end of the game was an emotional experience for everyone who was there, coaches, players, management and fans all took the hit.
Terry Parks, co-owner of the Aces, experienced the emotions of fans for the past several months, as well as the night of the game.
“They were all so sad. We have had fans crying, they didn’t want to leave the game that Saturday night,” Parks said.
The team gathered together near the end of the game, with Coach Rob Murray and team captain Garet Hunt making the most emotional goodbyes. Coach Murray left his team, walking the duration of the ice for everyone to watch before making his final exit.
In addition to the entire team raising their sticks in a salute together, Hunt stepped away to the boards and handed his stick over the glass to give one fan a final memento from the team.
The team exited the ice briefly, but in the despair of the players and the fans, they returned to the ice for one last time. The players and the fans both erupted in a roar of claps, with announcer Bob Lester calling out a different chant than usual.
Most normal home games would be given the chant, “Here we go, Aces, here we go,” but on that Saturday night, Lester chanted, “There they go, Aces, there they go,” as their final departure neared.
“It was definitely a sad experience. I didn’t even get to be at the game but it was all over social media and many of my friends were there. I grew up with the Aces and it was just a part of my childhood that ended,” Langlais said.
It was a tough experience for many, especially knowing that the team could have had the opportunity to play even a few more times. The final game against Idaho would lead one of them to the playoffs, which ended with one goal in Idaho’s favor.
And that was the official end of the Aces.
Co-owner Parks explained that the team has technically ‘gone dark,’ which means players are no longer contracted to the Alaska Aces and can search to sign elsewhere. In addition, the Aces ownership now has the opportunity to recover some losses by selling their ECHL membership.