Monday, October 15, 2007

Warming Up: The Roots of the Rivalry

Anchorage versus Fairbanks. Why the rivalry? There are any number of reasons for these two schools to dislike one another that have nothing to do with hockey. Alaska is an incredibly variable state. Environmentally speaking, it ranges from the only rainforest on Earth's northern hemisphere where temperatures rarely go below 50 degrees to the Arctic where in some places the temperatures rarely go above 50 degrees. There is a desert-like sand dune region; a wicked ancient caldera; North America's highest mountain; vast stretches of taiga and deciduous birch forest; thousands of miles of coastline; innumerable lakes and streams; nearly unimaginably mighty rivers and of course vast precious resources from gold to crude oil. Populations across the state are equally as disparate. The two largest cities have less attributes in common than they share. Fairbanks and it's immediate surrounding area has a population of about 80,000. Anchorage and it's surrounding area is nearing 300,000. Fairbanks is colder and darker in the winter but lighter and generally warmer in the summer. It's much more a place of extremes than Anchorage. Alaskans of all stripes though consider themselves rugged and individualistic. A good example to illustrate the point would be the recent release of the Sean Penn movie "Into the Wild". While much of the rest of the world seems to be enamored with the a spiritual journey of a unique soul, Alaskans see an unprepared schizophrenic boob who failed badly to assess his actual situation. Not to ruin what I'm sure is an otherwise fine tale but; the truth is that one day the Teklanika River is impossible to cross but on another it's not too dangerous to ford at all. Had he simply camped out next to it for a few days he would likely be alive today. On this point Alaskans are pretty much united; it is one of few such agreements that occur up here anytime "outsiders" try to tell us about our state. While many of us appreciated the unique humor of the TV show "Northern Exposure", pretty much none of us liked the continuous inaccuracies. Aside from these sorts of commonalities though, Anchorage and Fairbanks don't dig each other. What's up with that?

It's a big vs. little thing. It's a resentment thing. It's about distribution of resources. It's about frontier-life vs. city-life. Folks in smaller cities don't fully understand why people like living in larger cities. Those in the big city don't understand the appeal of a smaller town. People in Fairbanks resent the attitude of those in Anchorage, they think we have a "high and mighty" attitude. People in Anchorage resent the disproportionate funding that UAF receives when compared to UAA (more on that later this week). Anchoragites can't imagine doing without their much greater range of choices of where to spend their money. Fairbanksans don't get the need for 49 movie screens in 8 locations when they get by with 16 in one place.

All this and more carries over to the ice. There are only two schools in the state that compete in NCAA athletics. UAA and UAF. UAF is the flagship school of the UA system though. UAA however is the recognized flagship athletically. UAF has more graduate programs. They are a recognized center for arctic studies both environmentally and geophysically. Though they're 400+ miles from the ocean in 3 compass directions they host the only oceangraphic studies in the state. There is much pride in that for UAF alumni and students. There is much resentment of that here in Anchorage (located on the Pacific Ocean) at the school with a much larger enrollment. The resentment and rivalry even likely played some small role in the departure of former UAA president Elaine Maimom. Wow. Ousted because you wanted the bigger school to get funding that was inline with it's population? I can't help but think there is some defensiveness among the fully funded professorial elite in the Interior if they're gonna boot someone simply for bringing it up. No doubt UA President Mark Hamilton likes his status as a big fish in a small pond in Fairbanks and isn't about to let anyone threaten that with something like logic.

For most of the earliest years of competition in D1 hockey UAA flat out dominated on the ice. The teams played each other as many as 8 times a year at one point. I can remember being sick and tired of seeing Nanook jerseys even if we mostly pounded them. Even during those early years both teams had their share of studs; in Fairbanks they had Steve Moira who led all of the NCAA in scoring one year. They had a couple of -chuks, most notably Dean Fedorchuk who was no slouch at burying the puck. They had a couple of pain in the ass pint-sized guys (Ricky Pitta and Shawn Ulrich) who both always played their best games vs. UAA. UAA had it's share of Fairbanks killers in Dean Larson and Robbie Conn and Brian Kraft always seemed to be a thorn in their side. Aaron Voros scored more than a few goals in the series for UAF while Mike Scott returned the favor quite often for UAA. Anchorage born and raised Derek Donald and Paul Williams scored their share of goals vs UAF. No doubt Fairbanks born Greg Milles and Pat Williams have both fond and not so fond memories of the series; I seem to remember Greg's brother as a linesman/referee on a few occassions vs. UAA back in the day when "home-cooking" was more prevalent than it is today. Of course, we in Anchorage had our own famous "chef" referee (whose name escapes me damnit! ... who was always yapping at the players ... argh! I can't think of his name but maybe some kind soul from Fairbanks who remembers getting screwed will comment with the name and I can edit this frustration out) EDIT: Jimmy Brett, who didn't ever play for UAA but was "all-Anchorage" through and through. Over the years a number of players went from one school to the other (mostly UAA to UAF): Todd Skoglund, Tom Kowal, Nathan Rocheleau and recently Dustin Molle (who's dad played at UAA) all left UAA and turned up at UAF. A couple of brothers from Palmer chose differently with Cotton Gore going to UAA and Forest Gore choosing UAF. Don Lucia went from UAA assistant to become the Head Coach at UAF. As he brought that program up in respectability the rivalry intensified. Former UAF coaches Tavis MacMillan and Wade Klippenstein both played against UAA. Fairbanks radio color commentary man Erik Drygas played for UAF against UAA. There hasn't been a time that I can remember though where players on either side of this rivalry didn't passionately want to beat the other. Multi-generational sports rivalries sustain and stoke themselves by remembering the past. Any long time fan of either of these programs surely have memories from the past fueling their current passion to see the other team beaten down. I know I do.


Anonymous said...

Jimmy Brett

Donald Dunlop said...

Thank you very much. I miss Jimmy.

Anonymous said...

so donald whats is this rumor that there is no nye classic after this season is that true?

Donald Dunlop said...

Nye has been bought out. If I understand correctly, the sponsorship agreement is for 5 years and this was the 4th of that 5 years. Perhaps UAA has let them out of the 5th year since they sponsored it for the past 9 years. I'd guess another sponsor will be found with no problem.

Next year UAA and UAF agreed to only play each other twice and both are hosting tournaments of their own in which they're both participating. I'm also heard the arrangement to play each other twice is a home and home series. My assumption is that both tournaments will be of the fixed bracket variety.

For example;
Next year UAA is hosting UConn, Northeastern and UAF ... UAA will play UConn and Northeastern. UAF will play UConn and Northeastern. UAA and UAF will not play each other in the tournaments.

So that will take up the 6 available non-conference games. I don't know who UAF has lined up for their tourney. I think neither schools will have problems lining up schools with the games exemption that comes with participation. I hope my assumptions are correct. I did ask about all this but could have misheard the responses. I should have written it down.

Jeff said...

No surprise here but Lunden got WCHA offensive player of the week

Suze said...

Jeff, when does your article come out? Can you post the link?

Jeff said...

the articles should come out every tuesday in the northern light and in the sports section of

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