Interesting move afoot in local youth hockey -- the Alaska Junior Aces will become a Tier I elite program offering AAA teams at the U-18, U-16 and U-14 levels, with coaches who have deep backgrounds in local pucks.
The aim of the program, said Jerry Mackie, one of the Alaska Aces' owners and a Jr. Aces board of directors member, is to get the best Alaska players in these age groups all playing together to drive their development and compete nationally.
Modeled on similar youth programs affiliated with professional teams (think Jr. Flyers, Jr. Bruins and such), the Jr. Aces will wear the same uniforms as the ECHL club and have corporate sponsorship to try to help families alleviate the high cost of AAA hockey (i.e. ice time expenses and flying to Outside tournaments).
"It's kind of a way for our organization to give back,'' Mackie said. "We think it's good for kids and we think it's good for long-term development to have a Tier I program.''
Former Aces and UAA forward Merit Waldrop will be head coach of the U-18 team, former Aces and UAA defenseman Matt Shasby will be head coach of the U-16 club, and former UAA winger and assistant coach Keith Morris, who played professionally, will be head coach of the U-14 team.
Look, The Blog is going to pretend he's massively tuned in on local youth pucks, but it seems to us it's a good idea to try to get the very best players in the state, particulary the ones in Anchorage, all playing together. There are several youth organizations locally and statewide and inevitably the best players are somewhat scattered. Anyhow, be interesting to see how this Jr. Aces program develops.
Mackie said the Jr. Aces know they won't have all the best players -- for years now, some of the best kids have been going Outside to play in youth programs. Mackie's son, Gage, who had a strong freshman season at South High for instance, is headed to Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.) in the fall, following a long line of Alaska boys and girls who have attended that elite program, which also owns a strong academic reputation. Alaskans like Hunter Fejes, Ryan Schwalbe, Tanner Sorenson and Truman Reed (who will be a senior at Shattuck in the fall) have parlayed their development with the Sabres into Division I scholarships.
The board of directors for the Jr. Aces includes Mackie, Morris, Shasby, former UAA defenseman Todd Bethard, former Mount Marathon god and hockey supporter Marten Martensen, and Kris Knauss.
The Jr. Aces will conduct tryouts for all three of its teams, Aug. 1-3, at the Subway Sports Centre in Anchorage.
The Jr. Aces are putting together a website -- www.jraces.com -- that should be up soon. In the meantime, anyone with questions can contact Alaska Junior Aces Hockey Association manager Lisa McPheters, who doubles as secretary/treasurer, at email@example.com