Hill seeks return as UAA hockey coach

Doyle Woody
Erik Hill

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.

He declined further comment.

"I have applied, and I'm very interested in the position,'' Hill said by telephone from his home in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. "Out of respect for the process, I would rather not comment more at this time.''

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.

The following season, in 2005, UAA again pushed host Wisconsin to three games in the first round, falling 2-1 in the deciding game on a Badgers game-winning goal that was clearly scored with a kicking motion. The WCHA did not use video review at the time.

Hill resigned following that season, citing UAA's refusal to give his assistant coaches 11- or 12-month contracts and raises he believed were necessary to remain competitive in the WCHA, and the lack of a contract extension for himself. UAA assistant coaches at the time worked under 10-month contracts.

Four days after Hill resigned, UAA hired Shyiak, who in 2001 was a finalist with Hill to replace the fired Dean Talafous.

Hill's four WCHA playoff wins remain the most by a UAA coach.

Justin Johnson of Anchorage, who was a walk-on for Hill at UAA and made that first Seawolves journey to the Final Five, said he owes a large part of his career to the coach who gave him a chance. Johnson currently is a winger for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.

"I owe this whole thing to him,'' Johnson said by cellphone. "I get to walk with my head held high, and a lot of that is because he was the guy who gave me an opportunity.

"He had a roster with a lot of guys like me, but it wasn't OK to just come close. His expectations were really high. This was his team, his program, his school, and he was going to make it better, and he did.''

Johnson said Hill's connection to the Anchorage hockey community can mend fences -- the relationship between UAA and its hockey alumni, for instance, is fractured, according to many former players.

"It's crystal clear that only one man can come back and restore this program's respectability, and that's John,'' Johnson said.

Veteran NHL center Scott Gomez of Anchorage did not play college hockey -- he played major-junior and was in the NHL at 19 -- but grew up a devoted Seawolves fan.

Shortly after Shyiak was fired, Gomez texted Hill: "U gonna change UAA again? Town needs u!!!''

The San Jose Sharks center said he thinks UAA's hockey program needs an Alaskan in charge.

"We need someone who grew up in our community, knows what the program and the city and state can offer, and realizes how special our hockey community is,'' Gomez said. "We all brag about what a unique, special place this is, and that's our university.

"Talking to guys who played for Hilly, the one thing they always talk about is his passion for Seawolf hockey. It's time for that again. I hope (the new coach) is a local. Who is more qualified than John Hill?''


Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.