This weekend’s three-game series between the Reign and Alaska Aces is a homecoming of sorts for defenseman Luke Beaverson, who called Sullivan Arena home during his four-year career at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
Sullivan is notable for being the only rink in the ECHL’s Western Conference (it’s also believed to be the only pro rink in North America) with Olympic dimensions. Unlike the 85-by-200-foot playing surface used by most North American teams (including the Reign), an Olympic rink is 98 feet wide.
“Every time you think you’re running out of room, you’ve got an extra five feet, Beaverson said. “Defensively and offensively, that can be an advantage if you’re driving wide on a guy, and a D-man like me who’s been used to playing on an NHL-sized rink, got an extra five feet wide.
“The guy can beat you wide. There’s a lot of extra room out there. The corners are deeper. It’s just a little different.”
Beaverson has plenty of experience at Sullivan, but most North American hockey players have played on an Olympic rink somewhere, at some point, even if they never do as a professional.
Center Dusty Collins called an Olympic rink home (the Berry Events Center) during his four-year collegiate career at Northern Michigan University. Goaltender Kellen Briggs played on an Olympic rink at the University of Minnesota. Defenseman Pat Bowen’s alma mater, Merrimack College, doesn’t use an Olympic rink,
but conference rivals New Hampshire and UMass-Amherst did.
Unlike the college squads, almost all Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and QMJHL rinks use the NHL dimensions. But even players who chose the junior route are likely to have some experience on the bigger rink.
Defenseman Jordan Hill regularly visited the Belleville Bulls’ Yardmen Arena as an opponent with the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League. Defenseman Matt Delahey, a Western Hockey League alum, honed his skills at the Notre Dame Hockey Academy, a bantam-level rink in Saskatchewan.
“Growing up, we played on them,” said Beaverson, a native of St. Paul, Minn. “It’s standard. Some people think it’s a big deal. Personally it’s not a big deal.”