Prince George brothers Stephen and Chris Jandric know they will be playing at least one more season of college hockey together in Alaska with the University of Alaska-Anchorage Nanooks.
However, their future as teammates beyond the 2019-20 season with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association team remains in doubt as a result of drastic cuts proposed to the state-funded university's budget.
"There were so many unknowns going into the summer but we stuck with it and our coach (Erik Largen) called us a couple weeks ago and said we're for sure still playing," said Nanooks defenceman Chris Jandric, who turns 21 on Oct. 3.
Alaska has three state-funded universities - Alaska-Fairbanks, Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Juneau. Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy announced in June he wanted to slash $135 million from the university budget in 2020, which would likely have forced consolidation of the three schools and possible suspension of varsity sports programs. But on Tuesday Dunleavy revealed a new plan to halve the cuts to $70 million, phased in over the next three years, a 21 per cent reduction in the state's university budget.
The Nanooks play NCAA Division 1 hockey in the WCHA, along with the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. On Aug. 3, the WCHA confirmed both hockey teams will play full schedules in 2019-20. Until that was confirmed, there was a possibility the Jandrics would have to look for another school to continue playing hockey.
"We know for sure there's a team this coming year and after that it's a little bit unknown," said Steven. "Hopefully I will get to finish off my final year and Chris's last two years in Fairbanks, but whatever happens, happens."
Steven, who turns 22 on Sunday, is about to begin his third season of college hockey. He was the Nanooks' top-line left winger last season. The former Cariboo Cougar midget put up nine goals 15 assists and 24 points, after a four-goal, 23-point rookie season. In both seasons he played all 36 games.
His linemate the past two seasons was former Spruce Kings right winger Chad Staley, who has since graduated, and they played against forward Jeremy Luedtke, also a former Spruce King, who just finished his last season wit the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. Chase Dubois, a former Cariboo Cougar forward, is joining the Nanooks this season.
Chris, who turns 21 on Oct. 3, made a spectacular adjustment to college hockey, one of only two defencemen to make the the WCHA all-rookie team. Like his brother, he played the previous two years before college in the BCHL with the Vernon Vipers. In 28 games with the Nanooks, the five-foot-11, 173-pound Prince George native scored three goals and had 12 assists for 15 points, with 42 minutes in penalties.
"It was an awesome experience, the team fell a little short in playoffs but I thought, from a personal perspective for Steven and I, we both had good years," said Chris. "We both played lots and we couldn't complain about anything going on up there, so we're excited to go back."
He played well enough to draw first-line power-play duty with Steven, who set up Chris for his first NCAA goal in his 10th game at Lake Superior State.
"That was super-cool, it was a power play and he was on the half-wall and he just fed me for a one-timer, I just put my head down and shot and it went in," said Chris. "It was awesome having him on the team, he was definitely a key guy for us, finishing checks and scoring, he was a two-way player."
Steven stands six feet and weighs 200 pounds. He says the league is slightly faster than what he was used to in the BCHL and he's playing against older and stronger players compared to what he encountered the junior A ranks.
"It is fun, not too many people get to play college hockey with your brother," said Steven. "It's pretty special, and we only have two more years left and we just have to cherish our next two years.
"I've been given every opportunity to play and improve my game since I've been up there, which I'm thankful for. That being said, you still have go up and earn your spot."
Fairbanks is located in the middle of the state north of the Arctic Circle at a latitude of nearly 65 degrees. It's 580 km north of the coastal city of Anchorage and has an area population of about 97,000. With a mean average January average temperature of -22 C, it's the coldest larger city in the United States. In the dead of winter, days are limited to about six hours of daylight, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but they spend most of their time indoors studying or at the rink so that's no big deal to the Jandrics, who are both majoring in business.
"It's really similar to Prince George, with the scenery and where we're situated in the state," said Steven. "It does get down to minus-40 but it's a dry cold, so it's not too bad. It feels like home and that's one of the reasons we decided to go there."
The team averages crowds at Carlson Center between 2,500 and 3,000. Last season the Nanooks finished seventh in the conference with a 12-21-3-0 record and were eliminated in the first round of playoffs by Northern Michigan.
The Nanooks play 18 road games and fly to all of them except when they play their state rivals in Anchorage. Most of the team's $2 million budget is to cover their flights and hotel expenses. Last year's schedule took them to Arizona, Colorado and this year they will visit Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Alabama, where former Spruce Kings defenceman Max Coyle will be starting his college hockey career in Huntsville.
"I never thought I'd go to Alabama in my life but I'll get to play hockey there, it's pretty cool to see all that," said Steven, who returned to Alaska with his brother on Sunday.
On travel weeks, the team typically leaves Tuesday, practices Wednesday and Thursday for games Friday and Saturday. The Nanooks have one two-week roadtrip planned this season to Michigan Tech and Penn State.
"Our schooling works where you usually takes two or three online classes and three in-class classes so when you do take those big trips you don't fall behind too much," said Chris, who switched from criminology to business this year. "There's usually tutors that come along with us and support us and watch over us and if you need help, they're there."
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