Leader of ‘Save Seawolf Hockey’ optimistic with UAA deadline looming

Leader of ‘Save Seawolf Hockey’ optimistic with UAA deadline looming

Save Seawolf Hockey still needs your help to reach its goal of $3 million to rescue the University of Alaska Anchorage hockey program before its August 30 deadline. To donate or pledge money to the cause, visit saveseawolfhockey.com or text “UAAHOCKEY” to 41444.

It’s been a year since the University of Alaska Anchorage announced that it would cut its men’s hockey program, along with women’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s downhill skiing, to save itself approximately $2.5 million per year amid massive state funding cuts. Now, a grassroots “Save Seawolf Hockey” campaign is on the verge of rescuing the hockey program from what once appeared to be certain extinction.

The chairperson of Save Seawolf Hockey, Kathie Bethard, is a mother of three former NCAA Division I athletes, including a Colorado College hockey player, a UAA hockey player, and a University of Texas soccer player. She’s had a long career as a computer programmer and technology trainer, a work life that really has had nothing to do with college hockey.

Save Seawolf Hockey has been leading the fight to preserve UAA hockey. Image/Save Seawolf Hockey

Instead, she developed a love for the sport when her oldest son first started playing minor hockey in Anchorage at age four. That led to her joining the UAA booster club for the program’s first-ever season, some 42 years ago, and she’s been involved with the club—including serving as the president of its board for six years—in various capacities ever since.

But that involvement with UAA really isn’t what made her the right person to lead this campaign to save her beloved Seawolves. Instead, it was her willingness to simply stand up and do something when it looked like the program would be lost.

“I guess because I said, ‘We can’t let this happen,’” Bethard explains. “People were willing to rally around that cry, jump on board, form a committee, start a grassroots campaign.”

One year ago, UAA announced plans to cut the hockey program

When then-chancellor of UAA Cathy Sandeen announced the school’s plan to eliminate hockey, gymnastics, and skiing in August, 2020, it caught Bethard and the rest of the hockey boosters completely by surprise. In fact, the team itself was only given a two-hour notice before the announcement to gather the players together and let them know what was happening. It was a devastating blow for everyone involved.

“I was just astounded that they could do that with no warning to the public and especially the boosters who have supported this team for 42 years,” recalls Bethard.

She was simply unwilling to accept that fate for the Seawolves and the countless members of the Anchorage community who had supported them over the last four decades, so Save Seawolf Hockey was born.

It started with a write-in email campaign that brought an overwhelming response to the school’s board of regents. That operation eventually led to an agreement by the university that if any of the three sports being axed could raise two years’ worth of operating expenses, then that individual program could be reinstated for the 2022-23 season. For hockey, the annual operating budget is $1.5 million, so a goal of $3 million was set.

While most would see raising $3 million as an impossible task, Bethard and her comrades recognized that now there was a legitimate path to saving the program. “We took that and ran with that. $3 million is a lot of money to raise, but we were really optimistic at first because we had clear plans as to what we were going to do.” 

The pandemic put a wrench in fundraising plans

Making things even more daunting for Save Seawolf Hockey was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though fans couldn’t attend, the organization still planned to utilize TV broadcasts to facilitate “split the pot” raffles and silent auctions during games as relatively surefire ways to raise funds.

Former UAA captain Derek Donald takes a slapshot. UAA has a long history in the WCHA. Photo/University of Alaska Anchorage

They also figured there would be heightened public interest in the Seawolves during the season. Whether the team survived the budget cuts or not, 2020-21 would be the program’s last run in the storied WCHA. The conference had voted to disband so that seven of its member teams could leave to re-form the old CCHA, cutting out UAA, Alaska Fairbanks, and Alabama Huntsville and leaving those three without a conference.

The increased public interest and fundraising opportunities quickly evaporated when Sandeen announced in November that all winter sports would be canceled, citing, “The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff.”

If Save Seawolf Hockey was going to be successful in its goal of raising $3 million, it was going to need some serious help and some serious creativity.

Enter the Seattle Kraken

Bethard and her committee did get creative. They held their raffles and auctions virtually and hosted a youth tournament, “The Seapup Cup,” in conjunction with an outdoor alumni game between UAA and in-state rival UAF. That’s when the Seattle Kraken got involved, a real turning point in the process.

Kraken fans likely saw some of the marketing that the team did back then on behalf of UAA, trying to get people to donate money and leading the way financially with significant donations from the team’s ownership group. But the support didn’t stop with just donations and a few announcements.

Says Bethard, “They’ve been very very generous, and not only generous with their money but generous with their time. They meet with us on a regular basis to help us kind of plan our strategy, how we’re going to do things.” 

Even now, public service announcements are playing on ROOT Sports in Alaska thanks to Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke and his connections to the network that will eventually air Seattle’s games throughout the northwest.

“It’s pretty amazing, actually, the help they’ve given us… It’s their guidance and just clear vision and I guess their positiveness that we’re going to get there, and we are going to get there. We know that.”

Closing in on their goal

Save Seawolf Hockey was originally given a deadline of Feb. 15 to reach its $3 million fundraising goal. That date has long since passed, but when it came and went, the school’s board of regents recognized the real progress that had been made—the group at that time had raised $1.8 million—and unanimously approved a motion to extend the deadline to Aug. 30.

So here we are, just 11 days away from that extended deadline. Where does Save Seawolf Hockey sit? “We’re at $2.65 [million] as of [Tuesday] and we’re gaining momentum every day.” 

Staying the course

There have certainly been some high points in this process, like when Leiweke entered the equation and pledged his support, when UAA president Pat Pitney and the board of regents agreed to extend the fundraising deadline, and when Sean Parnell—who happened to already be a contributor to the cause—was selected as the school’s new chancellor.

But there also have been lows. The team’s last season in the WCHA getting canceled and head coach Matt Curley resigning after seven months as a figurehead for the movement were certainly tough moments to stomach.

Bethard’s hope never waned, though, and her group never lost sight of its goal. “I hate losing so I guess it just increased our determination to show the world we could save this program.”

In it for the long haul

Reaching this goal of covering two years of operating expenses is lofty, but what happens if they reach the goal? What’s to stop the university from cutting its hockey program again after those two seasons are done?

Save Seawolf Hockey has thought of this as well and currently has a memorandum of understanding signed by the school’s athletic department. That MOU indicates that if the boosters reach this goal and continue to help in fundraising efforts for a percentage of the expenses long-term, the school will back the program moving forward.

The UAA Seawolves prepare for a game. Photo/University of Alaska Anchorage

They also now have an important voice supporting them.

“The new chancellor that we have is absolutely awesome. He’s behind the memorandum of understanding one hundred percent,” Bethard says of Parnell. “He’s stepping up to the plate. He’s actually helping us in some of our fundraising calls, he’s meeting with us on a regular basis. It gives me just a tremendous amount of pride, I think, the fact that we’ve won over not only the athletic department but also the university as a whole.” 

Bethard is also hopeful that the Seawolves can find a new conference to play in after they were effectively shunned from the WCHA.

“My big dream and what I’d really love to see is a true Western Collegiate Hockey Association that’s west coast. How many pro teams do we have? California, Washington, Nevada…” She believes there’s a market for it in those places. “Collegiate hockey has its own draw… [They play] because they love it, you know, and they’re out there leaving their heart on the ice every night.” 

It’s funny how sometimes all a movement needs to get its footing is somebody to step up and lead. It doesn’t necessarily matter that person’s background, it just takes passion, commitment, a cause that people believe in, and unbendable perseverance to reach the end goal.

Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email darren@soundofhockey.com.

Kraken hire Andrew Allen and Dan Bylsma, sign RFA’s – Weekly One-Timers

Kraken hire Andrew Allen and Dan Bylsma, sign RFA’s – Weekly One-Timers

Welcome back to Weekly One-Timers, where the smoke has cleared and the temperature has fallen to a more comfortable level. The Seattle Kraken had another fairly busy week on the hiring and signing front, rounding out their coaching staff a bit more and getting two of their remaining three restricted free agents officially in the fold. Meanwhile, we at Sound Of Hockey have been hunkered down inside trying not to breathe in the poisonous air outside while also trying not to sweat our a**es off. We are thankful for the reprieve that Seattle is experiencing this Sunday. 

Seattle Kraken hire goalie coach and assistant AHL coach

Andrew Allen

The Kraken officially named Andrew Allen as their goalie coach this week. Allen, 45, is already a friend of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast (Episode 110), so it makes perfect sense that Seattle would hire him, being that the most important relationship already exists. But seriously, Allen is an awesome dude with a fascinating story, and his hiring comes as no surprise. 

He played college hockey for the University of Vermont, then went on to play five pro seasons, bouncing back and forth between the ECHL and AHL and dressing in two NHL games for the Florida Panthers. Worth noting, Allen had a brief stint with the famed Macon Whoopee.

When his playing career ended, Allen’s coaching journey started with minor hockey in Canada, before he eventually got the opportunity to coach the Japanese national team.

“I was like a rockstar,” Allen told the Sound Of Hockey Podcast of his time coaching in Japan. “In North America, it’s like goalie-to-student ratio of three or four. They would put a kids camp on their website… It would be like a rock concert where it was sold out in seven minutes. You’d have like 40 goalies on the ice, and you’d have camera flashes coming from the crowd, and I’m like, ‘This is amazing!’ And they were so passionate about hockey. So I had such a great experience in Japan.” 

He then rose through the ranks and was hired as the developmental goalie coach for the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs before becoming the head goalie coach for the Buffalo Sabres, where he spent four seasons. 

Most recently, Allen was a pro scout for the Kraken, specifically focused on goaltending. 

“Andrew has been a valuable member of our team over the last year and played an integral role in the Expansion Draft as our pro goalie scout,” said Kraken general manager Ron Francis via press release. “We’re proud to keep working with him as he transitions to a coaching role, bringing his wealth of experience with him to our team’s day-to-day.” 

Dan Bylsma

The hiring by Seattle of Dan Bylsma as an assistant coach for the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers did come as a bit of a surprise. The former Stanley Cup and Jack Adams Award winner had most recently been serving as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. In the same role but at the AHL level is not where we expected Bylsma to land, especially since he has real NHL head coaching experience and success on his resume. 

Our theory (and this is just a theory) at Sound Of Hockey is that the Kraken are teeing Bylsma up to become the head coach for their AHL affiliate in Palm Springs when that team begins play in 2022-23. Time will tell if we are correct in that prediction. 

“Disco” Dan, 50, played 429 career NHL games. He posted a record of 252-117-32 during his six seasons as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also went 68-73-23 with the Buffalo Sabres over two seasons. 

Said Francis, “Dan joins our organization with an impressive resume, and his experience speaks for itself. He’s won a Stanley Cup, a Jack Adams Award, and he has a proven track record and we look forward to him coaching our prospects in Charlotte alongside head coach Geordie Kinnear.” 

Kraken sign two RFA’s

Cale Fleury

When the Kraken granted the Sound Of Hockey Podcast permission to interview Cale Fleury this past week, we figured it was only a matter of time before it was announced that he had been signed by the team. Sure enough, on the same day we released the episode, the team confirmed it had signed the 22-year-old defenseman to a one-year, two-way contract worth $750,000 at the NHL level. 

Selected from the Montreal Canadiens over such notable veterans as Carey Price and Shea Weber, Fleury was the youngest player taken in the Expansion Draft. He joins a deep blue line and knows that he will have to fight hard to land a spot with the Kraken. 

“I think for me, I’ll have to be one of the guys that’s battling for a spot, a little bit different than some of the other guys who were drafted obviously,” Fleury said in his podcast interview. “It’s not really a new position for me, it’s kind of what I’ve been in my whole career so far.” 

He added that Francis “would have picked me for a reason,” and he’s absolutely right. Brother of fellow Kraken defenseman Haydn Fleury, Cale played 41 games for the Canadiens in 2019-20 but was bumped down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket this past season with the arrival of Alexander Romanov in Montreal. 

“Cale is a smooth skater that has shown even at his young age to be a responsible defender that can play reliable minutes,” said Francis. “We like his mix of physicality and puck-moving skills and are excited to see him develop with our organization.”

Carsen Twarynski

The Kraken also announced that they had agreed to terms with Carsen Twarynski, 23, the forward that they selected in the Expansion Draft from the Philadelphia Flyers. 

During his tenure in the Flyers organization, Twarynski played 22 NHL games in total, including seven in 2020-21. He also has 107 AHL games under his belt with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, where he notched 38 points. 

Local WHL fans may recognize his name, as he played major junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen and Kelowna Rockets from 2014-15 to 2017-18. 

“Carsen plays a physical, high-energy game, and we like his tenacity and willingness to compete,” added Francis. “He plays a responsible game and we like his motor.”

With Fleury and Twarynski signed, Dennis Cholowski is the only remaining RFA without a finalized contract.

Around the boards

The Florida Panthers announced this week that “Jumbo” Joe Thornton is taking his talents to Sunrise, where he has signed on for a one-year deal at the league minimum of $750,000. This will be Thornton’s 25th season in the NHL. He has 1,529 career points in 1,680 games with the Bruins, Sharks, and Maple Leafs, and will surely enjoy being back in a place where he never has to wear a shirt. 

The IIHF Women’s World Championship is finally set to begin this week in Calgary. The event was canceled altogether in 2020, then postponed and moved from Nova Scotia, where it was supposed to be played in May of 2021. Team USA begins prelims on Friday against Switzerland at 6:30 p.m. Pacific on NHL Network.

Everett Silvertips defenseman Olen Zellweger signed his entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks this week. Zellweger, 17, is a silky-smooth skater who had 13 points in 11 games for the Tips this past season. He was selected in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft last month, No. 34 overall, and is primed for a huge season in the WHL. 

Palate cleansers

The Kraken schedule now has game times.

Sound Of Hockey’s John Barr visited the Kraken Community Iceplex this week. Looks like the place is coming together!

Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email darren@soundofhockey.com.

Sound Of Hockey Podcast Ep. 150 – Featuring Kraken defenseman Cale Fleury

Sound Of Hockey Podcast Ep. 150 – Featuring Kraken defenseman Cale Fleury

In this episode of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast, we learn about “the stank of the Sabre” and what that means for players and coaches. We also hear from Cale Fleury, who was the youngest player selected in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. Get his side of the story that his brother had told about sending him home in tears at times when they were kids. Plus, hear about his offseason training plans and his expectations for where he slots in with the Kraken. 

Also on this show, plenty of Kraken news, including the hirings of Andrew Allen as goalie coach and Dan Bylsma as an assistant with the AHL Charlotte Checkers. 

Andy gives a WHL Update about Stu Barnes (former Kraken pro scout) becoming the head coach of the Tri-City Americans, the team he also coincidentally co-owns. 

John and Darren give Weekly One-Timers, then the guys wrap up with Tweets of the Week.





How does the Seattle Kraken roster actually stack up against the NHL?

How does the Seattle Kraken roster actually stack up against the NHL?

The last week and a half have been bonkers for the Kraken and their fledgling fanbase. Thirty players were selected in the Expansion Draft, three of those were traded away, seven prospects were taken in the NHL Entry Draft, and three significant unrestricted free agents were signed. There will come a time in the near future when we will feel the need to analyze and dissect every transaction that involves a Kraken player. But with things happening in such rapid succession, we really haven’t had a chance to take a step back and consider what the Seattle Kraken actually have in their initial roster.

So, let’s give it a gander, shall we?

Projected depth chart


Jaden Schwartz – Alex Wennberg – Jordan Eberle

Jared McCann – Yanni Gourde – Calle Jarnkrok

Brandon Tanev – Colin Blackwell – Joonas Donskoi

Morgan Geekie – Mason Appleton – Nathan Bastian


Mark Giordano – Adam Larsson

Vince Dunn – Jamie Oleksiak

Carson Soucy – Haydn Fleury / Jeremy Lauzon


Philipp Grubauer

Chris Driedger

Joey Daccord

Vying for spots


Alexander True / Luke Henman / Carsen Twarynski / Kole Lind


Cale Fleury / Will Borgen / Dennis Cholowski

Now, this is obviously just our guess at how things will shake out. Yanni Gourde had surgery and is expected to miss a month or two, so already the Kraken may have a spot for a guy like Alexander True out of the gates, though we think more forwards will be added before the season starts.

Impressive at defense and goalie, better than people realize at forward

The depth on defense is impressive. We see Haydn Fleury and Jeremy Lauzon as interchangeable options on the third pair, but both of those guys are legit NHL players who played as many as 25 minutes on a given night this past season. We also list Cale Fleury as being on the outs, but he played 41 games for Montreal as a 22-year-old, so he will get a look in training camp. He’s also a right-shot defenseman, which is valuable, as he is one of just three on the Seattle Kraken roster (Adam Larsson and Will Borgen are the other two).

With Philipp Grubauer taking over the starting spot in the goalcrease and Vitek Vanecek sent back to Washington, the Grubauer/Chris Driedger tandem looks to be one of the better batteries in the NHL. Combined, the duo had a regular-season save percentage of .924 in 2020-21, which legitimately puts Seattle at the top of the league if they both put up comparable numbers. So, with all that, it’s pretty easy to imagine the Kraken being a difficult team against which to score.

“I think our D corps is really good,” Grubauer said on Friday during his media availability. “Forwards too. With [Jaden Schwartz], some experience in the forward section there, so it’s going to be really interesting what system coach puts in place, and we’ve got to find our identity as a team too. The team looks great on paper, but obviously you’ve got to play and create some chemistry, and I think it’s a young team so really looking forward.”

Even with the free agent signings of Schwartz and Alex Wennberg, though, the prevailing theory seems to be that the forward corps is thin and won’t produce enough goals. There is a good group of secondary- and tertiary-type scorers in guys like Gourde, Jared McCann, Calle Jarnkrok, and Joonas Donskoi. That should bring a balanced attack throughout the top three lines, regardless of how head coach Dave Hakstol draws it up. But without high-octane scoring leaders, can Seattle get enough offensive production in a score-by-committee approach?

I’m no data guy, but let’s look at this from a slightly more analytical angle, rather than just straight-up eyeball testing it. The 12 forwards and six defensemen that we have slotted into the above depth chart (let’s assume the last spot on the blue line goes to Haydn Fleury just because he has more NHL experience than Lauzon) combined for 168 total goals in the shortened 2020-21 season. That sounds weak, right?

Well, actually, if the Seattle Kraken had played this past season and those 18 players had made up the entirety of their roster and produced that exact same amount of goals, they would have landed even with the Boston Bruins in a tie for 14th place in the NHL.

That’s an oversimplification because there are myriad factors that we are not taking into account that would skew things in both directions. For example, Wennberg was playing on a very good line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Patric Hornqvist, so perhaps his numbers were skewed up. Schwartz missed 16 games and only managed eight goals after scoring 22 the year before, so we would imagine that his production was skewed down.

The point is that although the first glance may tell you there isn’t enough firepower in the forward group, it does feature a pretty good contingent of guys who consistently score 20+ goals in the NHL. If you put enough of those guys in one lineup, they collectively produce at a pretty good clip.

The below tweet also looks quite nice.

How will intangibles factor into the Seattle Kraken roster?

We also can’t forget about the intangibles. It’s no secret that Ron Francis and company have been focused on finding “character” guys and players who never quit on a play, and they have been successful in this endeavor. How that factors into the team’s success remains to be seen, but things like that do have an impact.

“I think everybody kind of has a little bit of the same makeup,” said Kraken forward Colin Blackwell during a Zoom call with press on Friday. “A lot of guys have talked about just what a good group of character guys it is, and I can’t tell you how far that goes in the game that we play, bringing in a bunch of good guys.”

“The roster is shaping up really well,” Blackwell added. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are kind of like myself, guys that can play up and down the lineup. We’ve got a good mix of some young, really good players, some people that are really hungry and maybe have only played one or two years under their belt but have a lot of potential and can really turn into some great players. You have a great mix there, and it starts with goaltending and the goaltending that we got is really good… So I think the roster is looking awesome. I’m extremely excited about it.”

Will the Kraken be the top-scoring team in the league? Absolutely not. But they’re going to score enough to get by, their defense appears very solid, their goaltending looks outstanding, and their compete level should be quite high. Let’s not forget, there’s still plenty of cap space to add either before or during the season, so Seattle is in a pretty good spot here.

Header photo by Brian Liesse.

Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email darren@soundofhockey.com.

Jasper Weatherby, a standout hockey player and purposeful stand-up guy from Oregon

Jasper Weatherby, a standout hockey player and purposeful stand-up guy from Oregon

Jasper Weatherby is an anomaly. The University of North Dakota senior was the only Oregon-born player in NCAA Division I hockey (by comparison, Mississippi and Hawaii also have one apiece) last season, according to College Hockey News. He’s also just one of seven players from Oregon who have been drafted by an NHL team, according to Elite Prospects.

On their own, those distinctions set Weatherby apart from most everyone else. He also boldly uses his platform as a high-performance athlete to draw attention to social justice issues in a manner that’s unusual for most hockey players.

Taken in the fourth round of the 2018 draft by the San Jose Sharks, Weatherby has decided to play out his upcoming senior season at UND instead of turning pro. His decision was made more difficult by the fact the Sharks are a team dear to his heart and nearest geographically to his hometown of Ashland.

“I’d drive down there six hours, my stepdad had season tickets since they were (an expansion) franchise, and I’d go to games. I think that it was an unbelievable opportunity, and at the same time I think that another year in college is only going to benefit me and maybe leaves me entering, hopefully, an NHL roster that much more prepared,” Weatherby, 23, said during a phone interview last month from his father’s home in Bend, Ore.

Completing his college eligibility and not signing with the Sharks could allow him to become a free agent next year, but he said that didn’t really influence his decision because of his attraction to the team and respect for general manager Doug Wilson and others in the organization.

“It was obviously a really tough decision,” Weatherby, a marketing major, said. “I really respect everything San Jose does from their GM to their player development coaches and even some of the younger prospects on the team. They’re great guys, but at the same time I was kind of thinking about my development and trying to get that degree. Just trying to build on my on-ice things that I can do well and trying to improve so when I do hopefully make that jump, I’m the best prepared I can be.”

As one of the top college hockey programs in the country, North Dakota is accustomed to having some of its best players turn pro before completing their NCAA eligibility. Fighting Hawks head coach Brad Berry is excited to have Weatherby back, especially after losing eight seniors and seeing junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker and sophomore forward Shane Pinto leave early to sign with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

“To have a player like Jasper come back four years, that says a lot about him,” Berry said by phone last month. “You know, I’m sure there’s probably opportunities for him to sign a pro contract with San Jose, but just talking with him and how mature he is (it’s great for UND) knowing that he wants to continue to round his game out and get better.”

After improving his production each year at North Dakota, including 14 goals and 24 points in 29 games last season, Weatherby is poised to continue his progression in 2021-22. In addition to training and watching his nutrition this offseason, he said he’s making sure to be mentally prepared so he shows up refreshed and feeling good for the start of the hockey season.

“He’s a big-bodied centerman, extremely smart, competitive, can make plays and also finish plays scoring goals,” Berry said of the 6-3 and 212-pound Weatherby. “So you know when you get players in college, when you recruit new players it’s sometimes tough finding big-bodied centermen that have all those attributes that I just described to you, and we’re very blessed and fortunate to have him in our group here for another year.”

Chasing a college hockey dream across a continent

Weatherby’s cross-continent hockey journey began in Ashland, which is better known for Shakespeare than slapshots. Weatherby was born in Portland, grew up in Ashland, and played his minor hockey 13 miles away at The Rrrink in Medford

“In high school I kind of knew I was serious about the game, (so) I was going to have to leave the Rogue Valley in Oregon. There just wasn’t quite enough there to fulfill the dreams of trying to play college hockey and then hopefully pro hockey,” Weatherby said.

At 13 he enrolled in the Canadian International Hockey Academy outside of Ottawa where he played Bantam AAA in 2012-13 and Minor Midget AAA the next season. Weatherby had been in a spring league in Vancouver, B.C., in eighth grade, but immersing himself in the Canadian prep school hockey environment took things to another level. 

“They’re unbelievable. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Weatherby said of the academy instructors at the boarding school in Rockland, Ontario. “It was an eye opening experience for sure.”

Weatherby had seven points in 29 games in his first season, and 18 points in 32 games in 2013-14 at CIH. The big jump in the quality of skills from Medford – “Oh my gosh these kids can really play,” he recalled about his introduction – greatly helped his hockey development.

While many classmates at CIH were eyeing the Ontario Hockey League route, Weatherby was focusing on playing college hockey instead of major junior. He moved to Nebraska where he finished high school and played two years for the Omaha AAA Lancers program in the North American Prospects Hockey League where he scored 23 points in 25 games for the 18U team in 2015-16.

After Omaha, Weatherby returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2016-17 to join the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League. He said he “didn’t play a ton” in the first season, scoring 12 goals and 32 points in 46 games, but he learned a lot from veteran players and head coach Bliss Littler and his coaching staff.

“I think you can’t really go to Wenatchee without being a good human being,” he said. “They would rather have somebody who’s a good human being and maybe not as good a hockey player. But they want that team environment and everyone’s growing and looking to go and play college.

A painful longest game

Nearly three months after North Dakota lost a five-overtime epic to Minnesota-Duluth in the longest game in NCAA tournament history, the wounds were starting to heal for Fighting Hawks forward Jasper Weatherby.

“I think that as time goes you will look back on that as more of a positive memory. It’s just such a unique game to be a part of,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and you learn a lot about the guys in that locker room, and you definitely think about it. Just happy and excited to be part of something kind of special like that.”

After falling behind 2-0 in the third period, North Dakota scored twice in 47 seconds with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker to even it up at the end of regulation. The teams had played an NCAA record 142 minutes and 13 seconds when the Bulldogs scored to win the game.

“You just kind of go back into your locker room and just kind of almost collapse in there,” Weatherby said. “They were just bringing us in all the food from the concession stand, and everything, you know, protein bars and anything that could get us calories. 

“It’s pretty crazy. We have an intermission clock in the locker room that’s ticking down and (I’d) be like ‘all right, you know, two more minutes I gotta stand up here.’ I stand up and you’re just like kinda going into the zone and you’re like ‘all right, I’ve got a job to do.’”

That 3-2 loss March 27 in the Fargo Regional final cost the Fighting Hawks a spot in the NCAA Frozen Four and will provide Weatherby and his teammates with motivation to make it further next postseason.

“The big thing is you want to win those last four games of the season, if you were lucky enough to get in the tournament. So for us, my goal is always to win a national championship,” he said. 

Jasper Weatherby
Jasper Weatherby had 14 goals, 10 assists and was a plus-seven as a junior for the University of North Dakota last season. (North Dakota Athletics photos)

“So that was a great experience. My first year we ended up losing in the playoffs the second round. And then the second year I came back and a lot of the guys, better players, had moved on to college, and I just kind of got given some opportunities and tried to put the work in that summer. Luckily they gave me some opportunities.”

In his second year he seized those opportunities, leading the league in scoring (74 points) and tying for the lead in goals (37) en route to winning the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy as the league MVP. Weatherby then led the BCHL playoffs in goals (15), assists (23), and points (38) as the Wild won the Fred Page Cup as league champions.

Weatherby’s successful stint in Wenatchee almost never happened, however. He wasn’t someone who was a top recruit guaranteed to get a roster spot. Weatherby got there with some hard work and good fortune.

“Not a lot of people know this, but I didn’t make a lot of junior teams and I think I must have been cut from like eight junior teams throughout those two years in Omaha and even before Omaha,” Weatherby said. “So Wenatchee was kind of like my last chance to make a good junior team. And I came in, there was I think five guys, and there was one spot. You know, I just played well and got lucky, and they ended up giving me that last spot.”

Oregon was not one of Wenatchee’s territory states from which it could recruit, but fortunately Weatherby’s mother was living in Lummi Island at the time. She had been filing his taxes from Washington state, so he was considered a resident and could compete for the Wild’s one opening for a Washington local (which explains why hockeydb.com lists his birthplace incorrectly as Lummi Island).

“It’s kind of funny how sometimes the stars align in that way,” Weatherby said. “I look back, if I hadn’t been from Washington, I wouldn’t have ever been able to play for Wenatchee because they did not have an opening for another import slot.”

A leader on and off the ice

Weatherby was an assistant captain last season and has a chance to become captain this year. Although the players vote to decide who wears the C and the A’s, Berry said he expects Weatherby to be wearing a letter again this season.

“I think he’s one of those guys that he doesn’t say probably a whole lot, but when he does it resonates in the locker room,” Berry said. “But you know the good leaders are the ones that back it up on the ice, or in the weight room, or in the community. They always do things at the highest level and every day. We call those guys ‘everydayers.’ And he is an everydayer, and guys follow that. And your bar is only going to go as high as your leaders, and he’s been an outstanding leader for us, especially over this last season. We’re really looking for great things for him and his leadership this year.”

Weatherby’s leadership extends beyond the dressing room and the ice rink. He’s one of three National Collegiate Hockey Conference representatives on the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force, and he’s a member of the UND Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group.

After George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, Weatherby and Bernard-Docker took part in a Black Lives Matter march in Grand Forks, N.D. Before the Fighting Hawks’ 2020-21 season opener, the two players knelt during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to protest racial injustice. 

Believed to be the first Division I hockey players to kneel during the anthem, Weatherby wasn’t afraid of anyone’s criticism or trolling on social media. He said he and Bernard-Docker, who is from Canada, expected the mixed responses they received.

“So we kind of talked that summer, and I said I was going to do it. And he took his time … and decided that this was something he wanted to do,” Weatherby said of his close friend and former roommate of three years. “So we came out with an article beforehand kind of explaining why we’re doing it

“The positive stuff for us really outweighed the negative stuff. We had minority people messaging us on campus saying, ‘Thank you for that; sometimes we feel that North Dakota isn’t the most welcoming place for people like ourselves.’ And for us that’s all we needed to hear. If we can make UND and North Dakota welcoming for one person who doesn’t feel like it’s welcoming then we’ve done our job, and we’ve done the best we can.”

Preceding that season opener was a team meeting where everyone had a chance to share their views while others respectfully listened. By the sounds of it, a good percentage of our society could take a lesson from how the Fighting Hawks players from various parts of Canada and the U.S. learned about each other’s perspectives.

“It was really powerful to hear people’s opinions of what they believe in. And at the end of the day that’s kind of what makes these two countries so great is that people can have different opinions and still fight for the same cause,” Weatherby said. “I wasn’t gonna tell anyone that not kneeling is a bad thing, and I wasn’t gonna, hopefully, wasn’t gonna hear from my teammates that kneeling was a bad thing either. So we came to a mutual respect, and it brought our team a lot closer, which was a great thing.”

Family history of standing up against injustice

Weatherby’s grandmother and step-grandfather’s activism for social justice issues had significant influence on Weatherby and his family. Ann Macrory took part in the Selma to Montgomery, Ala., civil rights march in 1965 and was a civil rights lawyer. Ralph Temple, who was Jewish, moved to the United States from London at 7 because of Nazi advances across Europe, and he went on to become a civil rights lawyer who worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU. (Read the Grand Forks Herald’s coverage to learn about many more examples of Weatherby’s family’s passion for social justice.)

Jasper Weatherby is on the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force and UND’s Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group. (North Dakota Athletics photo)

To those who make knee-jerk complaints that socially conscious athletes should be quiet and “stick to sports,” that’s not how Weatherby was brought up. To his critics, his response is, “educate yourself.”

“I’m a human being first, I have beliefs and feelings, and I’m an athlete second,” Weatherby, whose adopted brother is Black, said. “I think that sometimes in this world we like to put athletes on a pedestal and say just because you can shoot a ball through a hoop … that’s the only thing you are. And that’s so not true. I think that when you look at athletes who are able to voice their opinions and really become the people that they want, they’re just going to flourish in life. So I challenge those people and I say that my sport does not define who I am. Being a human being defines who I am and making choices for myself.”

Berry suggests Weatherby also developed his maturity, empathy, and some worldliness from moving around North America, living in different places, and being around different people.

“He’s a very deep thinking person. He’s a guy that is very sensitive, and he has a lot of care for everybody, and a lot of care for his teammates, and a lot of care for the people around him,” Berry said. “You know, he always approaches his day with kind of a deep thought process and that’s great to see.”

Being unafraid of standing out and drawing attention to yourself is quite unusual for hockey players. The culture of the sport has historically forced individuals to conform to certain restrained behaviors as a group. Being outspoken or drawing attention to yourself would be breaking one of those old “codes” that discourage actions that some might consider as individualistic. 

Unfortunately it took awful events such as the killing of George Floyd, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, racism directed at former NHLer Akim Aliu, and other incidents to prompt more players to change old habits, but it’s a start.

“I think for a long time it has kind of been a sport that’s been so stoic maybe, and not in a bad way, but hockey players are tough and they’re good people. I think that sometimes that can be misled for staying in line and don’t step out of the boundaries, but I think what we’re realizing now is that it’s good to be unique,” Weatherby said.

Becoming the seventh Oregon-born player to skate in the NHL would be unusual. Courageously standing up against racial injustice, trying to make college hockey more inclusive, and working to improve diversity on UND’s campus are proof that Weatherby isn’t just an anomaly in hockey; he’s someone truly exceptional.

Jim Wilkie is a longtime Northwest journalist, former NHL editor and NHL Insider writer for ESPN.com, onetime GSHL All-Star, and SJHA hockey dad. Follow him on Twitter @jimwilkie.