Anchorage — In the nearly three months UAA's hockey program went without a leader -- between the firing of head coach Dave Shyiak in late March and hiring of Matt Thomas to replace him earlier this week -- assistant coach T.J. Jindra kept the Seawolves program from being rudderless.
With Shyiak gone and the contract of associate coach Campbell Blair not renewed, Jindra has spent the late spring and early summer holed up alone in the school's hockey offices taking care of the myriad, seemingly endless details of the off-season.
That entailed making all the travel arrangements for next season's road games -- scheduling airline tickets, bus bookings, hotel reservations, meals, practice times. And, remember, with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association revamped to include new members, UAA next season will be traveling to places it has either never visited (Bowling Green in Ohio) or has not visited in decades (Lake Superior State and Ferris State in Michigan, for instance).
Jindra also has been the point of contact for returning players and incoming freshmen. He has planned for the players' arrival on campus at summer's end; overseen academics; scheduled practice times for the team here; handled day-to-day minutiae; and spoken with all six finalists for the job that went to Thomas -- they all wanted to pick Jindra's brain.
Jindra's reward -- Thomas is keeping him on staff, both because he likes what he knows of Jindra, who Thomas said comes highly recommended for UAA colleagues, and because the third-year assistant coach has been proactive in keeping the program moving forward and also delivers continuity.
"I think he's going to be a good fit,'' Thomas said. "He's young, he's hungry and he's the guy who has held the program together. He's deserving.''
Jindra, 30, said he's looking forward to working with Thomas, who comes to UAA from the ECHL's Stockton Thunder, where he is head coach and general manager.
"It's exciting,'' Jindra said. "I think this program has gone through quite a bit in the last couple months. I've tried to stay away from it and ignore it, and get the work done in the office.
"To stay and be part of the program is exciting. I've said many times there's a lot of potential here, and there really is.''
Jindra said he was uncertain after Shyiak's firing whether he would remain at UAA -- new coaches, he said, often like to bring in a new staff.
"The reason I did stick around was to make sure the returning players were taken care of and the incoming freshmen were taken care of,'' Jindra said.
Jindra said he and Thomas, who was hired Tuesday, try to talk on the phone once a day, and they also email and text frequently.
Thomas said earlier this week he would like to add at least one more defenseman and one more forward before next season. Now that UAA has a head coach, it can recruit again, which Jindra said "is crucial.''
Thomas said one of his first concerns in taking over at UAA is hiring another assistant coach, and he expects to begin work on that next week.
"It's a very big decision for me,'' Thomas said. "There's tons of qualified people, which is great. And there's a lot of interest in the job. It's important for me to give (candidates) the consideration they deserve.
"I'm trying to gauge the market.''
In the meantime, Jindra is making sure his new boss can hit the ground running -- Thomas expects to arrive in Anchorage in early July.
"I'm trying to at least give him the comfort that when he gets here, things aren't a mess,'' Jindra said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.