The Jackson Hole Moose have been skating and hitting pucks for 26 years. The team closed out 2023 with a two game series against the Phoenix Desert Dogs in a packed Snow King Ice Arena, but they still have more games coming up.
The arena was rocking on both nights in late December with live music from the band Lazy Eyes and chants from the joyous home crowd.
The Moose split the thrilling series, coming back and scoring late goals in both games that led to a win on Dec. 29, 4-3, but a loss the following day with a score of 4-3. The split moved the team to 8-6-2 (8 wins, 6 losses, 2 overtime losses) by the end of the year.
The Moose play teams from around the country annually, bringing hockey and fun to the community of Jackson and surrounding towns. And the history of the club runs deep with the locals and the players who’ve skated for the longtime team.
‘The best friends I’ve ever met in my life’
The Moose are coached by Sean Hannafin, a native of Medford, Massachusetts, who wrapped up his long playing career last year as a 14-year veteran in the club.
Hannafin began his adult hockey career after winning a High School State Championship at Morrisville State College (now SUNY Morrisville), a then two-year college in upstate New York, just southeast of Syracuse. In his sophomore year, Hannafin totaled 17 goals and 17 assists for the Mustangs and moved on to play semi-pro hockey in the United Hockey League for the Missouri River Otters.
After the organization folded in 2006, Hannafin made the move out to Jackson and began to play hockey for the Moose. He came and went for a period of time, but he said it seemed like the valley called him back.
“My brother was playing out here two years prior to me coming out, so it was an opportunity to keep playing at a higher level,” Hannafin said. “I met the best friends I’ve ever met in my life and here we are. I’ve left a few times, but I keep coming back. The place is a magnet.”
Hannafin helped the team win two Black Diamond Hockey League (BDHL) Championships in 2015 and 2017, and now is assisting the Moose from the helm.
Remembering Moose greats
The name of the BDHL trophy comes from a former player.
Joe Casey joined the Moose after playing college hockey at the University of Denver and semi-pro for the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. He made an instant impact and Hannifen said he was not only a great player, but an even better teammate.
“He was just the life of the party,” Hannafin said.
Joe passed away from pneumonia in 2013 — a heartbreaking loss for the team. They honored Joe by retiring his number and reserving a locker for his jersey in the Moose locker room.
Every year his father comes to make a speech to the team and when the BDHL formed, the trophy was named the Joe Casey Memorial Trophy in his memory.
To remember all the Moose members, the team had 25th season anniversary jerseys made last year, with all the names of the players who had skated in a Moose uniform, commemorating them for their hard work and love of the game.
A standout player
Player Drew Akins is one of the Moose star players, with a high number of goals this season.
“[I have the] same story as everyone out here,” Akins said. “They come out here for one year and they end up staying for the long haul. I’m definitely one of those people.”
Akins was born in St. Louis Park, Minnesota and played high school hockey for Minnetonka High School, a prestigious high school hockey team that is currently number one in the country, with an elite roster of highly touted prospects.
Akins played minor league hockey in Santa Fe and Sioux Falls before playing Division 1 hockey at University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was captain his senior season of 2009-10.
Akins played professionally overseas in Poland and Australia, as well as around America for many teams on the semi-pro level.
“I came out here through Bob Carruth, we’re both from Minnetonka. He always wanted to get me out here,” Akins said. “I first came out here playing against the Moose. I came out here with a team from Minnesota, and that’s the first time I finally saw Jackson Hole and what the Moose Hockey whole thing was all about. And then, the following winter was when I actually moved out here and (Carruth) helped me find a job through the youth program.”
Akins has made a large impact in every season as a member of the Moose since joining in the 2015-16 season. He was a huge part of the title run in 2017 with 69 total points and had a career best and team leading 101 total points in 2021.
‘There’s absolutely nothing like it’
Both Akins and Hannafin say they love being a part of the Jackson team and playing in the Snow King area.
“There’s absolutely nothing like it, to pack in 1,600 to 1,700 of your closest friends in one building to watch you play hockey is pretty unique, and I think there’s nothing really like it in the world,” Hannafin said.
“I think we have the best setup of our level of any kind in the country,” Akins added.
Moose fan and Jackson native Dave Galbraith said he loves the atmosphere and what the team brings to Jackson Hole.
“Every time the stands have been full. People are excited, jumping up, cheering, wearing hockey jerseys. It feels more intense than a minor league baseball game,” Galbraith said. “It’s a real thing the crowd is into and excited about. It’s also a very local scene in there. Every time I go I see a lot of people I know.”
Atkins said the reason team members love to play is the community.
“You see these guys, what they play through, weekend in and weekend out. I think the reason we do it is for the fans. I want to thank the fans for all their support and they’re the reason we come out every weekend.” – Drew Akins, Moose player
The Moose are just over mid-way through the season and are 9-7-2 after splitting the opening series of 2024 with the St. Louis Spirit. They play Powell River this weekend before taking a brief break until the first week of February.
Music starts at 7 p.m. and puck-drop is 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $10 online, and $15 at the door.