FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Gold Kings organization, which had an unprecedented 20-year run as one of the top senior men’s amateur hockey teams in the United States, is the 2011 inductee into the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame.
Induction ceremonies, which include recognition of the Coach of the Year, Referees Honor Roll and College Hockey Honor Roll, will take place at 4:45 this afternoon in the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame area at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Created by business leaders in 1975 at the height of the building of the trans-Alaska Pipeline, the original team was known as the Teamsters.
It was an all-star team with many Fairbanks players mixed with a few skaters from Seattle and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Roger McKinnon coached the fledgling squad, which played a limited schedule against teams from Anchorage and Seattle.
Home games were played in the Big Dipper, which was a converted aircraft hangar. The building was unheated.
Before the 1977 season, the team was renamed the Gold Kings, and John Rosie filled the role of president. The schedule expanded to include teams from other parts of the country and Canada, and following the 1977 season, the team participated in the first of many Senior Men’s National Championships.
The inaugural tournament for the Gold Kings was in Roseau, Minn., and the Gold Kings finished in second place.
Rosie, a lawyer who practiced in Fairbanks, and McKinnon, owner of Sport King, had a mutual respect for one another, which helped the organization blossom.
“Roger was a great guy to work with,” Rosie said. “He is passionate about hockey.”
“John ran the Gold Kings as if it were a professional organization,” McKinnon said. “Success comes from the top in any organization and John provided that kind of leadership.”
The Gold Kings became more popular in the 1980s, when the Big Dipper was renovated into the venue it is today.
As more and more fans turned out to watch the team play, the Gold Kings’ roster evolved as players from other parts of the country joined.
The Gold Kings won their first national championship in 1983 and went on to claim five crowns through 1995. Other titles came in 1988, 1990 and 1992.
Rivalries developed with the Saint Paul Parkers, Minneapolis Bucks, Whitehorse Huskies, Anchorage Aces and others.
In addition, the organization began hosting international tournaments with teams from Europe and the Far East.
The most memorable of those international games was in 1987, when the Gold Kings skated to a 4-4 tie against the Russian National B Team.
The Gold Kings continued to thrive in the 1990s, collecting three more national titles.
However, the organization began encountering difficulty finding suitable opponents. Minor professional leagues sprang up around the country. Players gravitated to those teams, rather than playing in the amateur ranks, making it harder for the Gold Kings to fill a competitive schedule.
The Gold Kings became a professional team and joined the West Coast Hockey League for the 1995-96 season. They experienced initial success, but it was short-lived. The organization moved to Colorado Springs following the 1996-97 season.
The 20-year Gold Kings era had come to an end.
Many players who came to Fairbanks to play hockey for the Gold Kings wound up staying in the area. They found jobs, started families, coached youth hockey and became contributing members of the community.
“I have lots of fond memories of the team … the folks I worked with and those terrific fans,” Rosie said. “We had such strong support within the community. That feeling will never be equaled.”
The hard work of untold numbers of volunteers made the Gold Kings a successful program. Fans crowded the Dipper to support the team. Those two decades brought unprecedented hockey success to the community.
The Gold Kings will live on as the standard of excellence against which other hockey programs will be judged.
Randy Zarnke is the president of the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame and author of the book Fairbanks Hockey Pioneers.