The Idaho Steelheads played their first ever postseason hockey game against the Anchorage Aces in 1998. The Steelheads won the first playoff series in franchise history against the Aces in 2001.
The franchise, now the Alaska Aces and the state’s only professional sports team, will play its final game against the Steelheads on April 8 in Anchorage.
Then it’s shutting down operations after winning ECHL Kelly Cup championships in 2006, 2011 and 2014.
“You never want to see a team in our league announce that they are ceasing operations. The reality is that in minor sports, and even major league for that matter, it can happen. That’s especially the case when there are economic downturns, as we’re witnessing with Alaska,’’ Steelheads coach Neil Graham said in a statement.
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“We have had a strong rivalry with the Aces for a long time and have nothing but respect for their fan base and organization.’’
Terry Parks, managing partner of the Aces ownership group, says the minor league team is losing money and the state’s declining economy means the trend is likely to continue. He says the Aces have lost more money this year than the past two years combined.
He says sponsorships are down $600,000, season ticket sales are down $262,000 and attendance is down about 1,500 spectators per game.
Parks says the owners are convinced that Anchorage can no longer support a professional hockey team, and that the ECHL has granted the Aces permission to voluntarily suspend operations.
“I think it’s an understatement to say this hurts,’’ co-owner Jerry Mackie said in the Alaska Dispatch News. “It’s like losing a family member because you can’t get them back. We tried every possible way to save this team and this organization for the community, despite significant financial loss. At some point in time, you realize there’s nothing you can do.’’
The Aces beat Idaho in that first-round playoff series in 1998, when both franchises were competing in the now-defunct West Coast Hockey League. Both moved into the ECHL for the 2003-04 season.
Idaho’s record against Alaska in the ECHL era is 73-49-14.
They have met in eight playoff series, with each winning four.
Alaska, which leads this year’s season series with the Steelheads 5-4, is not scheduled to play at Idaho in CenturyLink Arena the rest of this regular season. The Aces’ final games are April 5, 7-8 against Idaho in Anchorage.
Idaho and Alaska compete in the ECHL Mountain Division, along with Allen (Texas), Colorado, Utah, Missouri and Rapid City (South Dakota).
All Aces players will become free agents in the ECHL at season’s end, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.