The two top teams in the Warrior B division pause before the division playoff game at the Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey festival in April in Chicago. Photos Courtesy Challenge Alaska
Anchorage’s construction industry and its hockey community forged deep roots in Alaska’s biggest city long ago during the pipeline days, with laborers playing adult-league hockey. Now, thanks to a group of passionate individuals, those roots are getting deeper.
AGC members teamed up with Challenge Alaska to host the inaugural Contractors and Camo Tournament last January at the O’Malley Sports Center in Anchorage and helped raise more than $5,000 for the Alaska Warriors, a hockey program with disabled veterans.
“AGC was huge for us,” said Brandon Harker, the therapeutic recreation coordinator at Challenge Alaska, which is a nonprofit that provides adaptive sports and leisure activities for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
The $5,200 AGC raised helped fund the Warriors’ trip last April to Chicago, where they played at the Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival. The Alaska Warriors took 18 players and finished second in the Warriors B Division.
“It was a great experience to come home with a runnerup banner,” Harker said.
The team, which started in September 2017 with a grant from USA Hockey, has grown to more than 60 skaters. That number is likely to increase when practice begins in this fall, Harker said. At least that is the goal.
“We have guys who have never played hockey to guys who played junior hockey,” he said.
But ability level doesn’t matter. The Warriors’ motto is “It’s about more than hockey.”
“Hockey brings everyone together,” Harker said, “but it’s the time spent in the locker room, on the river fishing or on the course golfing where friendships are being made.”
Brad Ross, captain, and chris Block and Bryan Murphy, alternate captains, proudly display their runner-up banner after playoffs during the Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival. Another Contractors and Camo 3-on-3 tournament is scheduled for Jan. 5, 2019. Contact Kimberly Gray at AGC for sponsorship opportunities or to donate: kimberly@AGCAK.org.
Matt Ketchum, one of the owners of K&H Civil Constructors, loves playing hockey. He played during his youth and has coached for 15 years. When his company was asked to be a sponsor of the Contractors and Camo Tournament, he jumped at the chance. He ended up not only forming friendships but also having a blast while playing the 3-on-3 style hockey.
“It was great to share a locker room and make contacts,” said Ketchum, who has been an AGC member for 25 years. “It was a lot of fun. Well worth it. I definitely want to play again.”
He will get a chance Jan. 5, 2019, when the Second Annual Contractors and Camo Tournament takes place at the O’Malley Sports Center.
Xavier Schlee, who works for Alaska Basic Industries, helped with the logistics of last January’s inaugural tournament. He said the upcoming tournament will focus more on spectators by moving it to a rink with more seats.
“We were so busy with the first one, just trying to make it successful from a hockey point of view,” Schlee said. “It was wildly successful. There’s not a 3-on-3 tournament like it in the state. It had tons of participation. But for this year, we’re trying to make it bigger and better.”
One of the goals for tournament organizers is to reach out to more veterans to let them know about the tournament and the Alaska Warriors.
Bradley Ross and members of the CNS Warriors wait for the action at the April Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Chicago in April. The festival is the largest disabled event of its kind and hosted a record 128 teams and nearly 1,700 players.
Construction and hockey
Schlee hosts an AGC podcast called “Build Alaska.” Ron Pichler, president of Denali Drilling, joined him as a guest for a September 2017 episode. About 20 minutes into the conversation, they started talking about the old days of playing youth hockey in Anchorage. Pichler mentioned that he still plays as an adult. Kimberley Gray, events and communications coordinator for AGC, listened to the podcast and came up with an idea.
“She suggested that Ron Pichler andI meet with the Warriors,” Schlee said.
And so it happened. Pichler and Schlee went to a Warriors practice at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River to check things out. Just before they went into the locker room, the two talked about the potential of hosting a fundraiser for the team. They pitched the idea to Challenge Alaska and it snowballed from there, Schlee said.
Another tournament organizer who deserves credit is Chris Block, a veteran with a disability who helped start the Alaska Warriors team along with Harker at Challenge Alaska.
“Chris and I go out and promote the tournament,” Schlee said. “Our big thing is to let other veterans be aware of it.”
A big thank you
The more money the Warriors program raises, the more veteran players it can support, Harker said. Challenge Alaska uses the money to fund equipment, ice time and travel. But in the big picture, the money also helps improve the mental and physical health of veterans.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the risk of suicide is 22 times higher among veterans when compared with non-U.S. veteran adults. Harker hopes that building up the Alaska Warriors program will help decrease that statistic in Southcentral Alaska.
“We want veterans to be involved and get them out of the house,” Harker said. “It’s important to have someone to reach out to, someone who knows what they’re going through.”
Harker said he wants to give a big thank you to AGC for getting involved and helping Challenge Alaska spread the word about Alaska Warriors hockey.
“It’s been an amazing partnership to have,” he said.
Kevin Klott is a freelance writer who lives in Anchorage.