Uppsala, Sweden, sits at 59.9 degrees north latitude. Anchorage sits at 61.2 degrees north latitude.
You could practically draw a line between the two cities, so Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David has done just that.
Since forming five games ago, the line of Albin Karlsson of Uppsala and Alex Jackstadt and Alec Butcher of Anchorage has been in on six of the 11 goals the Brown Bears have scored.
Of course, being a hockey coach, and not a cartographer, David has another name for the line: “94 Triple A.”
“94” is for the 1994 birthdate of each of the players, meaning they each could play junior hockey for two more years after this season is done. “Triple A” is for Albin, Alex and Alec.
“They are all high energy,” David said. “They all think the game. Karlsson and Jackstadt have good speed. Butcher is a smart center with two speedy wingers.
“That’s kind of the same as a quarterback with two speedy receivers.”
The line fell into place when Butcher joined the team five games ago. He started the season with the British Columbia Hockey League and eventually made his way to the central Peninsula.
“They put me at wing,” Butcher said of his turn in the BCHL. “That isn’t my preferred position and I wasn’t producing as much.”
Fans of Alaska prep hockey will first remember Butcher as a center his sophomore year at West, when he had the most points on a team that won the state title.
He spent the next two years playing center with Pikes Peak Miners AAA Hockey in Colorado, setting him up for the current season.
“This is close to home so my family likes that,” said Butcher, who has two goals and an assist in five games. “They’ll be able to watch some of my games and see me more often.”
Butcher said the key to success thus far has been winning faceoffs, paying attention to defense first, and keeping things simple.
“Easy passes, easy plays, take what’s there,” he said.
David always stresses keeping it simple, so it’s no surprise he likes Butcher thus far.
“Butcher is very methodical, and has a feel for the game,” David said.
Jackstadt, who graduated from East this year, has played summer league hockey with Butcher in Anchorage. The two also played Midget 16 AAA hockey together for a season with the Anchorage North Stars.
“I love playing with Butcher,” Jackstadt said. “I wanted to play with Butch in the BCHL, but we ended up on different teams, so I came here to Kenai. It worked out better that way.”
Jackstadt said he heard good things from former Brown Bears in the Anchorage summer league, so he was happy to land at Kenai River. The one bad thing is his parents recently moved to San Diego, so playing close to Anchorage doesn’t mean he sees his parents more.
“It’s a small community and everybody knows us,” said Jackstadt, who has 10 points this year, including three in the last five games. “You can’t get away with anything. I like the system and the coaches.”
Jackstadt brings speed to the line.
“I just skate fast and try to get the puck to Butch and Albin,” he said.
David said Jackstadt would fit on any line, and that’s probably why he’s been shuffled a few times this year.
“He’s the digger, the guy who wins races on the forecheck,” David said. “He also has good vision, he’s small in stature, and he’s a good complement to the skilled guys. He does a lot of the busy bee work.”
Karlsson started out his Brown Bears career this year with a bang. He had five points in his first four games and locked up a Division I scholarship at Niagara University in New York. No Brown Bears player had ever signed a Division I deal at such a young age.
But then came a period of adjustment to American hockey and Alaska life that had Karlsson putting up one point in his next eight games.
“I had a good first couple games, but there were a lot of things I needed to learn about,” Karlsson said. “It was a rough time.”
Even before teaming with Butcher and Jackstadt, Karlsson began regularly finding his way back on the scoresheet. He now has six points in his last eight games.
“I learned scoring is a different way of helping the team, that the team can be helped in more than one way,” he said.
Even when Karlsson signed his Division I deal, David emphasized the player still had a lot of improving to do.
“He really is a skilled guy,” David said. “He’s starting to learn and pick up on the way we’re trying to play.”
With their names regularly in the scoring column, the line knows teams may start loading up to stop them. But the three said they are more worried about the things they can control, and that starts with effort.
“They’ve been the one bright spot in the last five games,” David said. “They’re putting up points every night and it’s mostly due to effort and competitiveness.
“They really get after it and practice very hard, and I believe practice pays off come the weekend.”