By DOYLE WOODY — firstname.lastname@example.org
ANCHORAGE — After absorbing withering criticism of its athletic director and its search committee for a new hockey head coach, UAA suspended the search Thursday night and announced it will revamp both the committee and the criteria for candidates to become the fifth bench boss in program history.
That move came after four finalists to replace Dave Shyiak, who was fired after eight losing seasons, visited town, interviewed with UAA officials and alumni, addressed current players and appeared at public forums over the last two weeks.
“There was tremendous interest in the process, in the future of Seawolf hockey and in the coach selection,” UAA chancellor Tom Case said in a telephone interview. “We had a search process that was good, but there was so much interest in the process we decided to open it up to further input and ideas.”
Case said no determination has yet been made in precisely how the search committee will be altered, but indicated it could include hockey alumni or members of the hockey community.
The initial search committee consisted of four UAA employees — men’s basketball coach Rusty Osborne, running coach Michael Friess, volleyball coach Chris Green and faculty athletic representative Stephen Strom.
Seawolves hockey alumni and the hockey community, who are increasingly alienated from UAA and have emailed and phoned Case with their concerns, criticized the search committee because it did not include anyone with a deep hockey background. Both the Alaska State Hockey Association and UAA Hockey Alumni Association issued resolutions of no-confidence in UAA athletic director Steve Cobb.
Cobb declined comment and said Case spoke for the university.
Mark Filipenko, the former UAA defenseman who is president of the UAA Hockey Alumni Association, said he welcomed UAA slowing down the process, improving it and rethinking how to get the best coach for a program that in each of the last two seasons has finished last in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“I think the search was flawed going out and redoing it makes sense,” Filipenko said in a telephone interview. “They’ve said, ‘We want to do it right, and the program deserves it.’ I think there was a pretty good push from the hockey community, not just the alumni. People stepped up.
“This is one of the first times I can remember the university listened to the hockey community. I’ve got to give credit to the chancellor for making a tough decision.”
Darryl Thompson, president of the Alaska State Hockey Association, echoed Filipenko’s sentiments.
“I do believe that the hockey community has been heard,” Thompson said by cellphone. “I always took the position, when I wanted to meet with the administration about the hockey search committee, that there needed to be a voice on that committee, that they understood there are people in the hockey community who could add a whole new layer to the search committee.
“I’m glad that’s happening.”
Case said the revamped search will be open to new candidates, and that he hoped the initial four finalists — Air Force associate head coach Mike Corbett, Michigan Tech assistant coach Damon Whitten, Augsburg College (Minn.) head coach Chris Brown and Utica College (N.Y.) head coach Gary Heenan — would remain interested in the job.
“I want to emphasize this expresses no lack of confidence in the four candidates, and we will certainly work to keep them in the pool,” Case said.
At public forums in which each finalist introduced himself, shared his background and philosophies, and answered questions, each emphasized the need for UAA and its next coach to repair the rift with alumni and the wider hockey community.
Case said the university has not yet set a timetable for hiring Shyiak’s replacement.
“We’re not in a big rush,” Case said. “It’s more important to get it right than get it quick.”
Seawolves winger Jordan Kwas, who will be a senior in the fall, said he is encouraged the university is being thorough.
“It’s nice to see them putting this much time and effort into it,” Kwas said. “We’re just sticking together and waiting it out. Everybody’s excited for a change.”
UAA’s decision to suspend its search will no doubt be viewed with interest the rest of this week in Naples, Fla., where the American Hockey Coaches Association continues through Sunday, and at the annual WCHA meetings this weekend in Marco Island, Fla.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335. Beth Bragg contributed to this report.