PALMER — Adult hockey players across Alaska kicked off the 2020 hockey season with the 16th annual NHL and Alaska Aces Alumni Celebrity All Star Game at the Palmer Ice Arena.
This charity driven event supports volunteer firefighters by purchasing necessary training equipment. It also benefits local youth programs, including gift distribution to Valley children during the holiday season.
“It’s just an honor for us to host it,” Palmer Ice Arena manager and former Alaska Aces hockey player Steve MacSwain said. “It just felt good.”
MacSwain said local firefighters usually join them on the ice, but only one was able to this year.
“It’s been an awkward year,” MacSwain said.
MacSwain said this is their second year hosting the event, noting that it has passed through many hands and locations across the state over the last 16 years. He said this year’s teams were mostly filled with Valley players from all walks of life.
“A lot of these guys know each other,” MacSwain said.
MacSwain said that everyone was relieved to be able to put the event on. He said it’s been “on and off” due to COVID-19, but everything came together.
“When I see people giving back, friends I’ve played hockey with out here, friends I’ve fished with out here, just to see them show up on short notice, get the first first game of the year, which happens to be a charity. It’s a beautiful thing. It just shows what kind of great Valley Alaskans they are,” MacSwain said.
Valley hockey player Nick Crowell went head to head with MacSwain in a one on one match toward the beginning of the event. Crowell was named the All-Star Games player of the year and recognized in front of the crowd.
“Nick whooped me,” MacSwain said with a laugh.
Local hockey player Garrett Ropka normally plays advanced league at the Menard Sports Center. He said this was his first time participating in the All-Star Game. He said that supporting local charities is “always a cool thing,” especially when it involves skates.
“It was a good little skate, a lot of fun. It’s always great being back on the ice,” Ropka said.
This was also Palmer Chiropractor Dr. Dwayne Engelbrecht’s first year playing at the All-Star Game.
“I thought it was a great event... a bunch of friends getting together for a good cause… The hockey community stands behind the first responders and what they do,” Engelbrecht said.
While this was Engelbrecht’s first year participating in this event, he’s no stranger to Palmer hockey, or hockey in general.
“He’s very loved from the medical side and the hockey side. We’re very thankful he’s in our area here,” MacSwain said.
Engelbrecht said that he’s been involved with Palmer hockey programs for the last 12 years and he’s played hockey most of his life. He said that he plays on a Valley men’s league and serves as an assistant coach for the Palmer Pioneer minor hockey team.
“I’ll keep playing until they tell me I have to quit,” Engelbrecht said with a laugh. “I think the Palmer hockey rink is like a second family to a lot of us.”
MacSwain said this event was the first official hockey game of the season.
“A small crowd, but a loved crowd. We got it done,” MacSwain said
The 2020 high school season is just around the corner along with many local events on the calendar, including the Rocking Hockey tournament that brings all the Valley schools together to play with students with special needs..
“Seeing the kids and families again is always special. You realize how much you miss seeing them,” MacSwain said.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at email@example.com