University of Alaska senior captain Adam Naglich has managed to thrive playing four years in the isolated, ice-cold outpost of Fairbanks. Not bad for someone grew who up a roller hockey star in Nevada and took up ice skating less than a decade ago.
“It kind of just happened one summer,” recalled Naglich in mid-February, just prior to a two-game split at Western Michigan University.
He isn’t exactly sure when he made the transition from wheels to blades, but it started back in his native Las Vegas as a teenager.
Naglich earned both Roller Player of the Year and Skater of the Year honors in Sin City, along with other accolades, before turning his attention to ice. He first attempted the switch at the behest of roller hockey teammates such as Ed Del Grosso, who now plays at Nebraska-Omaha, and former roller coach Larry Sanford, whose son, Micah, also once skated for UNO.
“It’s definitely different,” said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Naglich of the change in playing surfaces. “The first time I couldn’t really stop, and that was the hardest part for me. It motivated me to work harder, though, and I worked at it the whole next summer.”
His efforts paid off, as evidenced by his subsequent on-ice success with the Las Vegas Mustangs AA Midgets, with whom he posted 48 goals and 112 points in two seasons. He then graduated to the Victoria Salsa of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, where he collected 62 goals and 145 points in three campaigns.
Nowadays, Naglich stays off wheels altogether. Well, almost.
“I’ve just played ice the last six years, and now I can’t skate on rollerblades anymore,” he laughed. “I played in a three-on-three tournament last summer, and that didn’t go too well.”
It has gone relatively well in Fairbanks, however, even if Naglich and his senior classmates are on their third head coach in four years at Alaska’s Carlson Center.
“I was recruited by Guy Gadowsky,” said Naglich of the former Alaska mentor who is now in his fifth season at the Princeton helm. “I played for Tavis MacMillan (for two years), then Doc DelCastillo, and now Dallas Ferguson.”
Ferguson, himself a former Alaska Nanook defenseman, had been around the program the last few years as an assistant coach, however, and that helped make the latest coaching change more seamless.
“We knew how he was as a coach, and he knew us as players,” said Naglich. “The team this year is a little bit different, and he’s done a good job of having guys put in roles where we can be successful.”
Naglich posted scoring totals of 14 goals and 47 points in his first three seasons in Fairbanks, and had eight goals and 14 points in his first 32 games this winter, including an overtime winner against visiting Ferris State on Feb. 21 in the Nanooks’ CCHA regular-season finale. Alaska itself demonstrated marked improvement in the conference standings, and gained a first-round playoff bye with a 13-10-5-3 league mark and a fourth-place finish, one point ahead of Ohio State.
That success forced a second-round opponent to make its own trek of several thousand miles north to Fairbanks, a place that Naglich has gotten used to over the last few years.
“If you asked me five years ago (about playing in Alaska), I’d have thought you were crazy,” he said.
Fortunately, he could rely upon some of his former Victoria teammates who had gone on to what was then known as UAF to give him testimony about the Golden Heart City and its sub-Arctic climate and several dozen inches of annual snowfall.
“I knew a lot about it coming in, and I had a great experience on my fly-up and ended up coming here,” said Naglich, who also considered Minnesota-Duluth among several other schools.
Alaska has experienced some notable success in Naglich’s career, including right off the bat during his freshman campaign of 2005-06 when the Nanooks topped three different No. 1-ranked teams in Minnesota, Michigan and Miami. His most vivid Nanook hockey memory so far comes from within the 49th State’s boundaries, though, and involves UAF’s perennial rivalry with Alaska-Anchorage.
“Definitely winning the Governor’s Cup,” said Naglich of the annual trophy awarded to the winner of the season series between the Nanooks and the Seawolves.
“Anytime you play them, they’re our biggest rival,” he said of UAA. “You treat those like playoff games. There’s some extra excitement on both sides, and it’s just good hockey.”
Naglich and company claimed in-state bragging rights during his rookie campaign and sought to do so again this year in a home-and-home series with the Seawolves on Feb. 27-28 that capped the regular season; however, they were shut out in the two-game nonconference tilt.
A business major, Naglich said that he wants to take a shot at playing professional hockey following graduation. Four years of playing home games in the middle of America’s largest but least populated state, along with flying to every single road contest, and enduring winter temperatures as low as minus-50 degrees could have taken their toll; but the Nevada native has withstood the unique experience that Fairbanks offers.
“The cold hasn’t really bothered me,” he said. “We’re so busy in the winter, and being out of town traveling, that it hasn’t been bad at all.”
He admitted he’ll actually miss those marathon road trips, of leaving Fairbanks on Tuesdays and getting back on Sundays. Days of living out of suitcases, living off of laptop computers, and ferrying textbooks along for the long rides, all the while trying to win Division I hockey games.
“It gives the team a chance to be together a lot and helps team chemistry,” said Naglich of the Nanooks’ cross-country expeditions. “One of the good things about college hockey is that you get to see and play in a lot of different places, and that’s something you’ll never get back.”
Not even on the Vegas Strip.