Features > The Great Bright North?
(From left) The author, Bobby Freeland, and Flint Doungchak
The Great Bright North?- Part 1 of 3
by Chris Bilder, Generals Staff Writer
Eugene, OR- When I heard stories about Alaska being light for 22 hours out of the day, I’m not sure if I really believed them or just wrote them off as an entire state playing a practical joke on the rest of the country. Well, almost every doubt in my mind was erased when our plane landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport at 11:35 PM. I still couldn’t fully believe the severity of the situation. If Alaskans were telling the truth about the light situation, this means that they might be telling the truth about a multitude of different things in Alaska. Could it be possible that they don’t live in igloos? If they don’t live in igloos, they still have to get to work and school on dogsleds….right? These were things I was determined to discover in my first visit to Alaska. Those things, and, is there truly a hockey rink in every tiny town in the Land of the Midnight Sun?
I started my fact finding journey with our GM Flint Doungchak, our Head Coach Bobby Freeland, and Kevin Kern, who is Generals forward Justin Kern’s father. It became apparent to me almost immediately that almost everything I have ever believed about Alaska was about to come crashing down in a giant heaping pile. From the moment I walked out of the airport I discovered things I could have never imagined. First, there were no dogsleds! I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. What I saw was something so preposterous that it almost didn’t seem true. Cars, trucks, and SUVs were driving around on paved streets, and there was no snow in sight. I considered the possibility that our plane had flown through a time warp, and we were now deep into the time of global warming. That thought was quickly dismissed, however, when I happened to sneak a glance at the Anchorage Daily News. It was perhaps a stupid thought, but hey, better to be safe than sorry.
So, I had been in Alaska for less than a half an hour and was already having a moral crisis. Should I jump right back through those airport doors with some sense of my beliefs still in contact, or should I soldier through and just take whatever this mysterious place could throw at me? I decided to put my fears behind me and continue with my journey. It was a tough decision, but I thought I could use a good adventure every once in a while. Despite my setbacks I still held out hope that some of my beliefs would prove to be true.
I had a good feeling that upon departure of the airport I would get some good news. I could almost see it now…hundreds, maybe thousands of igloos scattering as far as the eye could see. Sure, there would be Escalades and Suburbans parked next to them, but at least I could feel a tiny bit of satisfaction knowing that these Alaskans couldn’t put one over on me. I jumped into our rented Toyota Camry reinvigorated. I was on the verge coming back. Sure I was wrong about a couple of minor details, but in a couple of minutes I would be turning everything around. The Maple Leafs came back from 3-0 deficit against the Red Wings in ’42, why couldn’t I come back from mine? I found out very quickly why that is known as the greatest comeback in hockey history, because it has only happed once. There weren’t igloos as far as the eye could see. There weren’t even a few scattered igloos. All I could see was houses and businesses. But wait; in the distance I saw something. Was it? Could it possibly be? It was. Finally things were starting to turn around. What I had discovered was not one, but two ice arenas. After some quick research, I found that the rinks were Ben Boeke and Sullivan Arena. And with a little more research, courtesy of Mr. Kern, I found that Sullivan is home to the Alaska Aces who happened to be up 2-0 in the ECHL Finals.
As we drove the final blocks to our residence for the week I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had discovered two hockey arenas, even though they were in Anchorage. Hope had been restored yet again. We arrived at our apartment at 1:00 AM, and I walked out onto our balcony. As I stared out across Anchorage in the almost dusky light at all of the cars and houses I thought of the days to come, and the many discoveries I might make. Thinking about that made me way to tired, and I decided to go to bed.
The next morning I woke up reluctantly at 7:00, and promptly decided to put shut the blinds on my to do list for the next night. As I walked into the living room I saw Flint sitting in his normal position in front of a computer. Something was different, though, as he was not staring at the screen. His eyes were darting around the room, and finally settled on the coffee table. Me, being the polite but inquisitive person that I am, promptly asked him what the hell he was staring at. He informed me that he thought there might be a terrorist plot against Alaska because the mosquitoes were, and this was the exact word he used, “ginormous.” I had to see this for myself. I walked over to the coffee table and Alaska surprised me yet again. Not only do they have cars, houses, and a never ending supply of light, they also have giant freaking mosquitoes. After a couple of minutes of close observation of the abnormally large insect I realized that should probably stop staring at a bug and get ready for the day. Besides, we had a lot to accomplish.
Our first stop of the day was Portage Glacier. I had yet to see snow on the ground, and I figured what better place to see snow than at a glacier. After an hour drive through beautiful terrain we arrived at a Forrest Service Station near the glacier. Bobby, Flint, and I walked inside to get some information about a ferry ride to the glacier. We were met with a smile by a middle age couple, sitting at the front desk, who were all decked out in Forrest Service gear. We were having a short conversation with them about the ferry ride when the gentleman asked about my hat. I didn’t think much about the question, and went on to explain to him that we all worked for the Generals and were here for a week to see Alaska and hold a tryout camp. The couple smiled, and went on to explain that they knew of the team because six months out of the year they live in Springfield (less than a mile away from Eugene). This got me thinking. Were the cars and houses and constant sunlight all a giant conspiracy? Maybe so, but I would have to dig a little deeper into Alaska to find out.
About an hour later we jumped onto a ferry that would take us to Portage Glacier. Sitting in the open with the wind blowing through my hair and listening to the captain who strangely looked like Sean Connery, with a nametag that read Sean Connery, I forgot about the “conspiracy” and just took in the surroundings. There were mountains surrounding the opaque lake that we were now traveling on with waterfalls trickling down to the water. Trees were under grown and fairly space, which Captain Connery explains is due to snowfall, but it was an amazing landscape. When we finally came to the glacier, that was basically a giant chunk of ice, Alaska’s charm started to take over. Little did I know what I had in store for me next.
When we arrived back in Anchorage we met Kevin Kern, Randy MacMillan (Generals defenseman Tyler MacMillan’s father), Randy’s brother-in-law Jerry, Justin Kern, and former Generals forward Trevor Johnson at the Peanut Farm to watch the Aces take on the Gwinett Gladiators in Game 3 of the ECHL Finals. What I found was not at all what I expected. Being 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon I figured there would be a handful of people, but I didn’t think there would be 200 people crammed into the place waiting to see the game on a 10’ projector or one of the other 30 TVs around the establishment. Workers sat alongside their bosses who had both taken the afternoon off to watch “their boys” come one step closer to winning a championship. Every time the Aces scored in their 5-4 victory over the Gladiators the fans went berserk, but none more so when Kimbi Daniels scored a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal to give the Aces a 2 goal lead in the third period. The jubilation didn’t last long however, as the Gladiators scored 11 seconds later to cut the lead back to one. There was no booing, but people shouting encouragement at the team through the TV’s. They had to know that “their boys” couldn’t hear them, but being there to witness that was something I’ll never forget.
Lying in my bed that night, after shutting the blinds, I considered the things I had experienced the last two days. Sure Alaska isn’t a magical place where people ride around in dogsleds and live in igloos, but there was something about that state that was growing on me. I was bound and determined to find out what that was in my remaining days in Alaska.