ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Mike Doyle typically sees his position as the social media manager for Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium as a good job to utilize his skill set and make a good living.
With the coronavirus pandemic taking hold in recent months, his perspective has changed a bit.
"It is nice to feel like you are making somewhat of a difference where you're connecting people with health services and health solutions to improve their overall health and wellness," said Doyle, who has held his current position for the last three years.
Working for a health care organization that co-manages the largest Alaska Native hospital in the state is quite a ways away from what Doyle was doing five years ago. Doyle, a former St. Cloud State and pro hockey player, was a managing editor for Wild.com and publications for the Minnesota Wild.
He grew up in Alaska and moved back to his hometown to be closer to his girlfriend at the time in 2015. Doyle, 39, ended up marrying his wife, Ashton, in July and the couple is expecting their first child next week. He had worked for the Wild for four seasons, writing and editing stories for their website.
"When you're in sports, you can get real jaded quickly about basic comments about how you misspelled a word or something ... I don't really get too hung up in all that stuff here," he said. "At the end of the day, our goal is to improve health and wellness and saying you feel good about it at the end of the day ... as cheesy as that sounds.
"It is fulfilling when you get a message: 'Oh thank you so much. I didn't know that resource was available.' I'm not providing health care, but I'm providing someone with the answer that they're looking for."
With more than 3.5 million square miles, Alaska is the largest state in the union. But with a population of about 734,000, Alaska also has the third-smallest population of the 50 states and there are 175,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people.
"One of the trickiest things and most difficult parts of health care in Alaska is the distance," he said. "In some of these rural communities, they don't have running water in their homes. They have it in a centralized location, but they don't have running sewer water.
"And there's not road system (everywhere). You have to fly and boat to places. You can't drive to the ER. Sometimes, they have to get emergency (transportation) to their hub community and then medevac to our hospital."
Doyle's job includes running the organization's social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and also does some work for its website, anthc.org. While there are vast areas in the state that do not have internet access at home, many can get to common areas for it.
"A lot of them have access to the internet," he said. "If there's a school in the community, they're going to have the internet because there's a lot of distance learning here."
As of Monday, April 13, there have been 272 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 66 who have recovered, 31 total hospitalizations and eight deaths.
"In Alaska, our numbers are still fairly low compared to the rest of the country, so we're still into the physical distancing and preparation for when the wave does come," said Doyle, who has an undergraduate degree in print journalism and a master's degree in public relations and advertising. "We're trying to provide the most accurate information out there and there's new information coming out all the time.
"There's a lot of uncertainty and, when there is uncertainty, there's going to be fear, especially when it comes to people's health. The uncertainty is what causes the most anxiety for everybody," he said. "In some of those small communities, you're reliant on your neighbors in a lot of ways. That element can be difficult."
The pandemic has also provided some challenges for Doyle personally. Because Ashton is pregnant, that has added a layer of concern.
"We're trying to learn about pregnancy and not knowing about how it affects different people and different segments of the population," he said. "At first, pregnant women are fine and it's not such a big deal. In the last month, that's completely changed and she's been working at home the last couple of weeks and so am I.
"It's been nice for her to not have to go into the office," he said of Ashton, who works for the state's energy authority. "One of the things with (COVID-19) is that your fever spikes and that's really bad for pregnant women, I guess. So we're trying to avoid that."
Doyle had also begun playing in an Americana music duo with Anna Nowosad and they call themselves Fox in the Henhouse. Their first gig was on Easter Sunday in 2019 and they had been playing at local bars and events, including for the youth hockey association and curling clubs.
Since moving back to Alaska, Doyle has been a youth hockey coach at the peewee (12-and-under) and squirt (10-and-under) levels. He admits that he has had to make some adjustments to being a youth hockey coach, but is enjoying it.
"Hockey gave me a lot in life, so I felt like it was about time to give something back," said Doyle, who was a TV color analyst for St. Cloud State hockey games while attending graduate school from 2009-11. "I had all kinds of opportunities — working for the Minnesota Wild, playing in college, traveled all over the United States.
"Trying to share a little bit of insights into the game that I was lucky enough to be blessed with. What's really tough is the patience. My first year coaching, I would get so frustrated because I didn't understand why for some kids, this isn't their life. When I was 11, 12 years old, hockey and sports were all I cared about, just super competitive.
"There's hockey players and there's kids who play hockey. That's OK. It's taken me a little bit to kind of realize that. You still have to push them, to try to get the best out of them. But at the end of the day, it's not every kid's goal to play in NHL that you're going to coach. Some kids just want to have fun. If they're having fun, they're more likely to get more out of the experience."
Doyle played forward for St. Cloud State from 2001-05. He had 89 points in 139 college games before playing two seasons in pro hockey. He said that he does not play recreational hockey anymore, but has taken up curling.