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The Wings' Last Frontier

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Ty Conklin made 32 saves in his return to the Red Wings Wednesday night in New York. He will start his second straight game Saturday against Carolina. (Photo by Getty Images)
DETROIT – It’s amazing to think that the 49th state in the Union has produced a vice-presidential nominee before two goalies from The Last Frontier were teammates on the same NHL team.

But that seems to be the case as veteran Ty Conklin and rookie Jordan Pearce, both Anchorage, Alaska natives, will man the Red Wings’ net as starter and backup for the second straight game when Detroit hosts the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.

“It’s pretty unique having two goalies from the same town, same state, especially Alaska because there’s not a lot of hockey players, but it’s pretty cool,” Pearce said. “They have a great youth hockey program and there’s not a lot of population, but a high-percentage of them either play hockey in the winters or ski or snowboard. You have to do something for the long winters.”

With injuries to No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard (strained groin) and backup Joey MacDonald (back pain), the Wings were forced to recall both goalies from Grand Rapids, making the unique scenario.

Conklin started Wednesday’s 2-1 loss against the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, Pearce, a University of Notre Dame graduate with plans to one day attend medical school, is still seeking his first NHL action after he backed up Conklin at Madison Square Garden.

Even though former GOP vice-presidential nominee and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin drew attention to the sport when she called herself an “average hockey mom”, very few Alaskans have reached the NHL ranks. Besides Conklin and Pearce, Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky, Montreal center Scott Gomez, Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle and Tampa Bay center Nate Thompson are the lone Alaskans in the league.

In 1997, the Red Wings drafted their one and only Alaskan native, when they selected forward B.J. Young in the sixth round. A career minor-league player, Young appeared in one game for the Red Wings in the 1999-2000 season. He scored 67 goals with 87 assists in 236 AHL games.

“When I was growing up the youth program wasn’t nearly as big as it is now, it has grown with at least a couple 2-3 more rinks in town,” said Conklin, who was six-weeks-old when his family moved from Phoenix to Anchorage in 1976.

Conklin grew-up near Eagle River in northern Anchorage, while Pearce was on the south side of town. But Alaska’s largest city – it constitutes more than 40 percent of the state’s total population – it’s a relatively small town, not tiny, but both players probably had similar experiences as young kids.

“We’re both true Alaskans,” Pearce said. “Ty’s got his pilot’s license and plane. I don’t have my license yet but we have a family plane so obviously we both come from families that really enjoy the outdoors with fishing and hunting and getting out and enjoying our beautiful state so we’ve had some good stories about fishing and hunting.”

With a 10-year difference in age, the Wings’ goalies did not know one another back home. However, Pearce did follow Conklin’s early career from the University of New Hampshire to his first NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.

“He’s a lot older than me, obviously, he’s almost as old as my brothers so growing I knew a little something about him when he was playing for UNH, and watching him play in a couple of Frozen Fours and then early in his NHL career, so I’ve watched him. But I never ran across him growing up back home.”

The two Alaskans met three years ago during Conklin’s first stint with the Wings when Pearce was first signed with the club following his senior season with the Fighting Irish.

“We chatted back then,” Conklin said. “I know that he likes hunting and fishing, something that I like to do, a lot of guys like that growing up. I know he likes the outdoors and there are only so many hobbies up in Alaska, either you like the outdoors, but once you start playing hockey there’s another chunk of time.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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