For many years, the Alaska Aces have been the unicorn of minor pro hockey. They have been so secluded from their rivals, but still able to have local support and keep their heads above water in spite of that. However, it seems that much like the unicorn, the Aces could be just a figment of our imaginations sooner rather than later.
Last night, KTVA in Anchorage reported that the Aces could suspend operations according to their sources close to the situation. This morning, part-owner Jerry Mackie tried to calm the wild speculation, but didn’t make a bold commitment about the future of the team when speaking with the Alaska Daily News.
Plenty of this situation is due to the downturn of the economy in Alaska, which has been greatly affected by oil prices plummeting in the area. With that, obviously the entertainment dollars that once were available for residents is used for basic needs in their personal life. This has seen the attendance at Sullivan Arena to fall from an average attendance of 4,619 at the end of the 2013-14 season to 3,386 following the 2015-16 season.
On top of that, there are many other factors working against the Aces. When the California teams moved over to the AHL, it made the Idaho Steelheads their closest rival in the ECHL with distance from Anchorage to Boise being just over 2,700 miles. Travel alone for the Aces have been estimated at over $300,000 a year.
Problems in Alaska hockey didn’t start with the Aces, however. This past summer, the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks faced losing one or both of their hockey organizations due to the budget cuts happening in Alaska. Both teams were able to survive for this year, but their futures past this season is on very shaky ground unless things in the state can turnaround.
While things don’t look bright for the Aces (or hockey in general in Alaska), it can’t get any bleaker than what happened in 2002 to the Aces. At that time, their former owner Mike Cusack had filed for personal bankruptcy and included the Aces in that filing, showing the team was more than $2 million in debt. It got so bad that Cusack put the team up for auction on eBay. The auction because an interesting speaking point in the hockey world, especially when their $2.3 million winning bid turned out to be a prank by a college student. No clue if Craigslist will be the next destination for the Aces’ asking price should the owners want to sell it off.
According to the KTVA report, their source said there may be something this coming Wednesday in regards to the future of the Aces for next year and beyond. Stick with The Sin Bin for updates when they become available.