Anchorage — Former UAA hockey coach Dave Shyiak violently struck a player with his stick during a practice in 2011 and then instructed his players to keep quiet about the incident, former Seawolves winger Mickey Spencer alleges in a letter to University of Alaska president Patrick Gamble.
Spencer also sent the letter, dated May 1, 2013, to the university Board of Regents and UAA chancellor Tom Case.
Spencer said he saw Shyiak strike UAA forward Nick Haddad with a "baseball-style'' swing during a drill at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex on Jan. 11, 2011. He said Shyiak apparently became angered when Haddad failed to stop in front of the net, as instructed, during a drill.
"He tomahawked, lumber-jacked -- whatever you want to call it -- him across the thigh on his (hockey) pants,'' Spencer said. "We knew this wasn't a small deal, it's kind of a big deal. I've seen a coach break a stick over a goalpost or the glass because he's pissed about something, but I've never seen one take out his anger on a player.''
Two other former Seawolf team members told the Daily News they also witnessed the incident and they corroborated the details of Spencer's account. They said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity.
Asked in 2011 by a Daily News reporter about rumors of an incident, shortly after it was alleged to have happened, Haddad denied it. On Monday, in response to a text message from the Daily News, Haddad texted back, "No comment."
Shyiak was fired by UAA athletic director Steve Cobb on March 29 after eight losing seasons.
Shyiak's attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, said Shyiak disputes Spencer's characterization of the incident.
"He confirms he did strike Nick's knee pads with his stick,'' Fitzgerald said. "It wasn't an assault. It was, in essence, an attempt to get Nick's attention. It wasn't designed to injure Nick. It didn't cause any injury. Nick didn't report to the trainer, didn't suffer an injury, didn't go to the hospital.''
Haddad, then a senior, played in a two-game series that opened three days after the incident.
Spencer said Haddad and Shyiak exchanged expletives immediately after the stick incident, and Shyiak kicked Haddad off the ice for the rest of practice. In a team meeting the next day, Spencer said, Shyiak told the players he had apologized to Haddad.
Spencer said Shyiak told them not to talk about the incident if questioned and to keep the matter within the team.
In his letter to Gamble, Spencer said, "In more specific words, Shyiak told players, if asked about the incident, to reply, 'No comment, we were preparing for this weekend and things can get intense, it was nothing out of the ordinary.' "
Fitzgerald said Shyiak denies he told players to downplay the incident.
Spencer said players did not report the incident to UAA administrators or discuss it with reporters out of concern that doing so might damage their hockey careers.
"To say that we players feared for our playing time and scholarships if we spoke up is an understatement,'' Spencer wrote to Gamble.
Megan Olson, UAA's vice chancellor for university advancement, said in a statement emailed to the newspaper Monday that "because the allegation, if true, may constitute criminal behavior, the University has referred the allegation to law enforcement."
The investigation is being conducted by Stephen Goetz of the University of Alaska Fairbanks police department.
Olson added that Goetz, while associated with UAF, "has no connection with UAA, and is well respected among law enforcement professionals."
Spencer told the Daily News that as of Saturday he had been contacted three times by an investigator.
Fitzgerald said Shyiak has not talked to Goetz.
While declining to identify the sport, the coach or the players involved, Olson provided the following narrative of events:
Athletic director Cobb was told by a third party in 2011 of an allegation similar to Spencer's. Cobb followed university protocol and referred the matter to Dr. Stephen Strom, UAA's faculty athletic representative and associate dean of extended studies and workforce development at the school's Community and Technical College.
"Strom emailed the alleged victim more than once and followed up with a phone call and voicemail, but received no response,'' Olson wrote. "Strom then reviewed the situation with AD Cobb, who briefed Athletics personnel regarding the situation. Given that (team) practices were conducted in public and that there was no corroboration, staff determined that no further review was required. AD Cobb states that he nonetheless addressed the concern with the coach.''
Olson declined to say whether Strom tried to interview anyone other than the victim.
Fitzgerald said he doesn't think Shyiak ever spoke with Strom about the incident.
Strom declined to comment Monday.
Cobb too declined to answer questions from the Daily News on Monday, citing the current investigation.
Spencer left the hockey program at the holiday break in 2012 over what he described as "philosophical differences'' with Shyiak. He said he is going public now because he doesn't believe UAA's athletic department is providing "a safe, healthy environment for student-athletes to pursue academics and athletics.''
"I can no longer sit back and know that this went on and not inform someone about it,'' Spencer wrote to Gamble. "I hope to have children one day, and should they ever be athletes, I would hope that if something like this happened to them, someone would speak out and stand up for them.''
Spencer, 23, lives in his hometown of Gibbons, Alberta, and is no longer involved in organized hockey. He sells boats and all-terrain vehicles.
Spencer was suspended by Shyiak for one game in December 2011 after being issued a major penalty and game misconduct for spearing an opponent in a game at Minnesota State-Mankato, and wrote in his letter to Gamble that "I understood the suspension for my infraction and accepted my fate.''
Spencer, then the team's leading goal scorer, said Shyiak told him that, if he were asked why he was not playing, he should say he was a "healthy scratch," meaning fit for game duty but unable to crack the lineup.
He alleged in his letter to Gamble that Shyiak told him, "It won't look good and will just be a big distraction if the headline in tomorrow's paper reads, 'Leading Scorer for UAA Suspended.' ''
UAA is now looking to replace Shyiak, a process that was derailed and restarted after vigorous complaints from Seawolf hockey alumni and the Anchorage hockey community, both of which were upset that the initial search committee did not include an alumni or member of the hockey community.
Both the Alaska State Hockey Association and the UAA Hockey Alumni Association have passed resolutions of no-confidence in athletic director Cobb, who hires and supervises the school's coaches.
Fitzgerald, Shyiak's attorney, said he found the timing of allegations against his client suspect.
"I think this is really misdirected, because in my view, it is really designed to oust Dr. Cobb and, unfortunately, Dave is bearing the brunt of this,'' Fitzgerald said. "The timing of this doesn't escape me. It's transparent.''
After the public outcry, Case, the UAA chancellor, halted the original search. The university has since appointed a supplemental search committee that includes UAA hockey founder Brush Christiansen and three former Seawolf skaters.
The school slightly altered the job criteria, which could expand the field of applicants to the professional, major-junior and junior ranks. It reopened the job to applications.
The application period will close Friday. UAA has said it hopes to have a new coach on board by June 15.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.