Monday, April 22, 2013

Alaska Anchorage Coaching Search Draws Criticism

Not unexpectedly, Alaska Anchorage let men's hockey coach Dave Shyiak go after another last-place finish in the WCHA. The Seawolves were plucky and competitive at times, but largely not good enough to make any real noise in the league.

Shyiak's a good dude, but this move was coming for a while, and it couldn't have been a real shock to him or anyone else connected to the UAA program. Probably was a necessary move, too, as things weren't improving.

Attendance has dropped like a rock. The photo to the right was taken before a UMD game at Sullivan Arena a couple seasons ago. No tricks, kids. It was legitimately that empty after the pregame warmup. And it was more the norm than any kind of exception there as of late.

When I was there in December, it was pretty clear that Shyiak would be out, barring a miraculous turnaround in the second half of the season. The team wasn't drawing, wasn't playing well, and recruiting was taking a serious hit. UMD players talked about the substandard facilities, and while a pack of us were waiting for the locker room to be cleared out and the bus loaded for the next day's trip back to Minnesota, we saw UAA players hauling their bags out of the building.

Why? Because there isn't a locker room at Sullivan Arena that UAA can use full-time. They have to take their stuff to campus after home series. That's how bad Sullivan is for this program.

UAA has announced four candidates to take over the program. None of them seem to have grabbed the attention of the locals.

Evidently, the Anchorage hockey community is blowing up the in-box of UAA Chancellor Tom Case in regards to the school's search for a new hockey coach.

And judging from many emails that have been forwarded this way, the authors -- alumni and UAA hockey supporters among them -- are not sending attaboys.

Instead, a number of them are very critical of the four-man committee UAA assembled to winnow candidates to four finalists announced this week, and very critical of athletic director Steve Cobb..

The problem people appear to have with the committee is that it does not include a member of the hockey program's alumni or the hockey community, two groups severely alienated from UAA hockey.

The whole process at UAA is driven by human resources, which according to Cobb requires members of the search committee to be university employees.

Doyle Woody of the Anchorage Daily News seems to have a good idea what's going on. And the fans don't like it. Neither does the Alaska State Hockey Association.

The Alaska State Hockey Association, a group that represents thousands of the state's hockey players, coaches and officials, "resoundingly, quickly and unanimously" approved a vote of no-confidence in UAA athletic director Steve Cobb, its president said Saturday.

In a resolution sent to a range of university and state leaders, the association cited the steady decline of UAA hockey and claimed repeated efforts to reach out to the university's athletic department and hockey coaches have been "systematically met with callous indifference."

The resolution wields no power, but AHSA president Darryl Thompson said it sends a long overdue message at a time when the school is looking for a new coach.

There's an interesting twist on this story, according to Woody. I'll let him cover the bases.

Former UAA hockey head coach John Hill wants the job again.

Hill, the Anchorage native who coached the Seawolves for four seasons (2001-05) and currently scouts hockey's amateur ranks for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, said he seeks the job that became open when UAA fired eight-year head coach Dave Shyiak two weeks ago.

... Hill, 52, a former UAA captain and assistant coach, presided over the worst season in UAA history and followed it the next season with the deepest Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff run in the program's history.

After going 1-28-7 in 2002-03 -- the Seawolves won their season-opening nonconference game, but never won again -- UAA in 2004 beat host Wisconsin twice in a best-of-3, first-round series to advance to the WCHA Final Five for the first time in school history. At the Final Five in St. Paul, UAA beat Colorado College in the play-in game, which remains the deepest the Seawolves have gone in the WCHA playoffs in 21 seasons of postseason play in the conference.

As the article notes, Hill resigned after the 2003-2004 season, citing issues that showed a clear lack of commitment from the university. He coached at Minnesota under Don Lucia, and has been working as a scout since leaving the U.

Hill is not one of the four finalists.

I don't know that he's the best fit out there, but it seems this program -- more than any other -- needs a local guy. There is virtually no connection between the Anchorage community and the program. It's not just about the losing, because the program up north in Fairbanks has such a connection, even though it isn't the most wonderfully-successful hockey program in Division I, either.

I'm not saying none of the finalists will be automatically incapable of restoring that connection. But Hill has played and coached there and knows what is needed. That puts him a step ahead of any newcomer.

Of course, until the university is fully committed to the program, none of the other stuff matters. Anchorage is a great town with good youth hockey and great support for the sport. The fact UAA hasn't experienced any of that support recently is on UAA, not on Anchorage.

1 comment:

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