Delta Junction is roughly 100 miles south of Fairbanks with a population of under 1,000. The residents love their hockey.
“It’s a little bit of a ‘Mystery, Alaska’ type thing,” said Jeff Sanford. “We are this small community that plays hockey seven days a week — everybody from high school all the way down to little 8 year olds. It is a pretty amazing place.”
Sanford, his wife and two boys relocated from Kodiak to Delta in November. A change of hockey scenery inspired the move. Delta stood out based on his friendship with the coaches there.
The move panned out.
This past youth hockey season, Sanford and his two boys — 10-year-old Magnus and 8-year-old Marius — helped Delta skate to 10U and 12U A Alaska State Hockey championships, beating Kodiak along the way.
“I’m pretty proud of these boys,” said Sanford, who spent three years coaching in the Kodiak Hockey League and four years living on The Rock.
Growing up in Minnesota, Sanford was raised on skates and played on the junior circuit. When he entered coaching, he turned to the tiny town of Warroad, Minnesota, for inspiration. A 2017 NBC Sports Network documentary “The Road Through Warroad: Hockeytown USA” highlighted the hockey success of a town with a population under 1,800. Warroad has produced five NHL players and seven Olympians and dominates Minnesota high school hockey.
“Their style of program of what they deploy is precisely what I grew up playing,” Sanford said. “That is what I was trying to bring to Kodiak, and that is what I have done in Delta.”
Sanford said the program has older players teaching skills to younger players. He hopes that program turns Delta into Hockeytown Alaska.
“One of the things with the Warroad model is that all the kids play together, and they learn skills from each other,” Sanford said. “You have the captain of the high school team coming down to the pee-wee practice and teaching and working with those kids on how to play the game — passing on all of his knowledge.”
With a limited roster, Delta’s 10U and 12U teams played close to 60 games, collecting five tournament titles along the way — the most significant being at state. Sanford’s two kids played on both teams.
“This is the start of a dynasty,” Sanford said. “We are going to win state titles from now until my boys graduate high school.”