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From the Kings to the Seawolves: Powell River and the University of Alaska-Anchorage

Last year, two Powell River Kings players were recruited to the University of Alaska-Anchorage. In July 2022, defender Dylan Finlay was recruited to the school and teammate Karter McNarland committed to the Seawolves.

The Seawolves program has a long history with the BCHL as several former players and coaches have been part of the NCAA program.

Currently, former BCHL players James Darby and Rowan Miller play with Finlay on the UAA men’s team. All three were part of the hockey program’s return after a two-year absence.

For this article, I’ll cover several BCHL players and personnel who have joined the Seawolves in recent years. I’ll also talk about Finlay and McNarland’s time in Powell River. Before that though, I want to talk about the cancellation and subsequent return of the men’s hockey program.

Gone for two years

In August 2020, the University of Alaska-Anchorage announced cuts to several of its sports programs. According to UAA, reductions in state funding shifted the university’s financial situation. Men’s hockey was one of four programs eliminated by the school.

In September 2020, the University’s Board of Regents gave the men’s program a chance for reinstatement. They needed to raise two seasons worth of expenses by February 2021. The total needed was $3 million.

The program went on hiatus for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. After several months of fundraising, UAA athletics announced on August 31, 2021, that the Seawolves men’s hockey team would return for the 2022-23 season.

Seawolves from the BCHL

Former Victoria Salsa head coach and namesake for the BCHL’s Top Defenceman Award Campbell Blair was part of the Seawolves from 2006 to 2013 as their associate head coach. Another coach for the Seawolves came from the BCHL as former Merritt Centennials bench boss David Shyiak held the head job at UAA from 2005 to 2013.

Joining Blair and Shyiak in Anchorage was former Kings forward Andrew Pettitt, who played for Powell River from 2008 to 2011. The Whitehorse, YT product was with the Seawolves until the end of the 2013-14 season. Also coming from the BCHL to UAA was former Capitals player Alex Gellert. He played two seasons for Cowichan Valley before joining the Seawolves for four seasons.

Gellert and Pettitt are only two examples of BCHL players who played for the Seawolves men’s team. There are over 100 more. As for staff, both Blair and Shyiak had extensive coaching careers before coming to Anchorage. They are just some of the BCHL alumni who joined the UAA hockey staff.

Finlay and McNarland

In total, Finlay played two seasons for Powell River, and during the 2019-20 season, he played 40 games while notching 18 assists.

For the 2020-21 season, which was heavily impacted by COVID-19, Finlay left Powell River for the North American Hockey League. Less restrictive pandemic measures allowed him to play 33 games with the Maryland Black Bears and finish with 11 points. The following season, Finlay rejoined the Kings and was named captain. In his final campaign of junior hockey, he posted six goals and 16 assists.

In July 2022, Finlay committed to play at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, starting this season. It was several months before McNarland made his decision to join the Seawolves.

For his part, McNarland played this season and last for Powell River. Like Finlay, he spent the 2020-21 season in the United States.

During that season, McNarland saw time split between three teams. He played for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League, the Bismarck Bobcats of the NAHL, and the South Shore Kings of the National Collegiate Development Conference.

Originally, McNarland was committed to the University of Vermont but it didn’t come to be. Instead, Finlay’s recommendation convinced McNarland to head north to Alaska.

The Seawolves’ future

So far, Finlay is the only former Kings player on the Seawolves roster but when the 2023-24 season begins, he’ll be teammates with McNarland again. As for the program’s future, it depends on the funding.

Based on their schedule, much of the annual funding must be for travel expenses. It’s difficult for any team to operate in Alaska. For example, the Alaska Aces of the ECHL spent $300,000 on travel expenses every year. In 2017, the Aces were sold and relocated to Maine.

The 2022-23 regular season schedule has the Seawolves traveling across the continent. They travel north to meet the University of Alaska-Fairbanks but also south to face the University of Arizona. The schedule also shows them heading as far east as the University of Maine to take on the Black Bears.

The program has already made significant changes since coming back. Instead of playing at the 6,290-seat Sullivan Arena, the team now plays at the Seawolf Sports Complex on campus. Compared to Sullivan Arena, the Seawolves complex has only 800 seats.