UAA reopens search for hockey coach with revamped committee

Doyle Woody,

UAA on Tuesday unveiled a new search committee in its quest for a hockey head coach and altered the job criteria to open the position to applicants from the professional, major-junior and junior ranks.

The six-man supplemental committee, which includes UAA hockey founder Brush Christiansen and three former players, will evaluate all previous applicants and any new ones. UAA announced the committee five days after Chancellor Tom Case suspended the initial search following significant push-back from hockey alumni and the wider hockey community.

Both alumni and the hockey community found UAA’s initial search committee of school employees lacking because it did not include any members from outside UAA’s ranks. Critics also argued the initial job criteria emphasizing NCAA experience was too limiting.

The position that opened when Dave Shyiak was fired March 29 has been re-opened through May 17. The new search committee has latitude to select new finalists and add those to four previously announced finalists selected by the original committee.

The field of combined finalists will be ranked by a combination of both committees and that group will forward its recommendation to athletic director Steve Cobb. UAA said it hopes to hire the fifth bench boss in the program’s 34-season history by June 15.

Meanwhile, Division I Air Force associate head coach Mike Corbett, one of the four initial finalists who have already visited Anchorage to interview for the job, said he remains interested.

“I do want to be considered for the job,’’ Corbett said. “I want to see where the process in going to go.’’

Two other finalists — former UAA assistant coach and current Division III Augsburg College (Minn.) head coach Chris Brown, and Division III Utica College (N.Y.) head coach Gary Heenan — both said last weekend they remain candidates. The fourth finalist, former UAA assistant and current Division I Michigan Tech assistant Damon Whitten, said last weekend he will focus his efforts on his current post.

The members of the new search committee are:

• John Stalvey, the dean of UAA’s College of Arts and Sciences, and a former youth hockey coach who will chair the supplemental committee and the combined committees.

• Brush Christiansen, the father of Seawolves hockey, head coach in its first 17 seasons and instrumental in  building UAA into a Division I program that made three consecutive NCAA appearances on his watch. He also spearheaded the program’s entry into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

• Mark Filipenko, the former UAA defenseman and current president of the UAA Hockey Alumni Association, who is a commercial real estate broker.

• Mike Scott, the former UAA and Alaska Aces winger who is a sales representative for an electrical manufacturer.

• Gregg Zaporzan, the former UAA winger who is a physician assistant.

• Jerry Dewhurst, a longtime Seawolves hockey supporter and former college player who is a real estate agent.

Bill Spindle, UAA’s vice chancellor for administrative services, said the committee was selected after talking to hockey alumni and people in the hockey community, and reflects the school is listening to the community.

“We looked at, who are the folks who ought to have a say?’’ Spindle said. “Jerry has been a longtime supporter and cares about Seawolf hockey, and we wanted to have primarily hockey people, former players, too. Then, having Brush — he’s our legendary coach, and having him shows the community we recognize people who are supportive and passionate about the program.

“John Stalvey gives us the academic side — academics are very important — and he combines that and being a leader, and he loves hockey.’’

Filipenko said he believes UAA needs as its next coach, beyond someone sharp with X’s and O’s, a leader who is well respected and possesses the attributes to propel a program that has hit hard times — UAA has finished last in the WCHA each of the past two seasons.

“Someone who can come in and be a CEO,’’ Filipenko said. “We need someone who can come in and get the alumni behind them, get the hockey community behind them — and recruit — and get the players behind the program again.’’

In re-posting its job opening about noon Tuesday, UAA made one slight addition to the job’s criteria for experience. Previously, applicants were required to have “5 years progressive experience as an NCAA ice hockey coach with a majority of time at the Division I level.’’ The new posting keeps that wording and adds the phrase “or equivalent.’’

The “or equivalent’’ is pivotal because it opens the job to professional coaches, as well as major-junior and junior coaches, who might have experience every bit as important or impressive as a Division I background.

For instance, Western Michigan two years ago hired longtime NHL head coach Andy Murray to run its program. Murray coached for three years in Canadian college hockey early in his career, but under UAA’s initial criteria, a coach with a background similar to Murray’s would not have met UAA’s qualifications. A guy with a background like Murray’s would, however, meet UAA’s amended qualifications.

Spindle said any new finalists selected by the search committee will visit town and undergo the same interviews as the initial finalists, and also appear at public forums. Spindle said UAA would offer the four initial finalists the opportunity to repeat their visits for more interviews and another public forum.

Whoever fills UAA’s vacant position will find himself with significant work in the offseason. The new head coach must hire one assistant coach and possibly two — current Seawolves assistant coach T.J. Jindra has been given the option of remaining in his job.

The new boss will also have to become acquainted with returning players, perhaps quickly recruit a player or two for next season, secure ties with committed recruits — two UAA recruits have already switched their commitments to other teams since Shyiak’s firing — and begin immediate recruiting for the future. USA Hockey’s Select camps for elite players ages 15-17, for instance, take place in Williamsville, N.Y., from June 27-July 20.

Filipenko echoed Case’s recent comment that it is more important for the school to make the right hire than the quick hire.

“It’s a really big step for the program, and a really big decision that is important for the program,’’ Filipenko said. “Our goal is to get the best possible candidate.’’


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Doyle Woody,