Christiansen returns to help UAA

Doyle Woody
Alaska coaching legend Brush Christiansen, who led Service High to three straight state titles from 2001-04, had all but one of his players transfer to South High when the new school opened in 2004. The result was a 4-18-0 record. This season, the Cougars once again are without the talent that their powerhouse squads of the past had, but they are a respectable 7-9-0 because Christiansen gets the most out of his team.

Brush Christiansen founded UAA hockey, guided its transition from Division II to Division I, spearheaded its membership into a powerful league and during 17 seasons as head coach presided over its most cherished accomplishment, a shocking NCAA first-round road sweep of heavily favored Boston College in 1991.

"It's his baby,'' former UAA defenseman Mark Filipenko said of the Seawolves program.

Christiansen's retired No. 79 hangs from the rafters at Sullivan Arena in tribute to the program's first season in 1979 and at home games you can find him sitting or standing in the northeast corner of the building, dissecting the match.

"Like a coach,'' he said with a laugh. "I don't think you ever get over that.''

And now, 17 years after Christiansen stepped away from a program currently in decline, the father of Seawolves hockey will help identify the next man to rebuild what he started.

Christiansen, 67, was one of six men named Tuesday to a supplemental search committee charged with helping find the fifth head coach in the program's 34-year history. He remains involved in Anchorage hockey, playing with friends frequently and helping out with the Service High program.

He said he sees this as a critical moment in the program's history.

"It is important -- not to me, per se, I'm all finished with coaching -- but for the future of Alaska kids who dream of playing college hockey,'' Christiansen said. "There's nothing better than playing for your hometown team, in front of your friends and family.''

Christiansen and his fellow members on the supplemental committee will review all new applicants, and previous ones, and determine if any should be considered finalists. Then that committee and an original committee that selected four finalists will combine to forward a recommendation to athletic director Steve Cobb about who should fill the position that opened when Dave Shyiak was fired March 29 after eight losing seasons.

UAA hopes to hire a new coach by mid-June, and with community dissatisfaction in the program's decline, and attendance plunging, Christiansen said he thinks he knows what to look for in a new coach.

"One that's got to have big shoulders,'' he said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure put on him. We've got to win back a lot of things. We've lost, I feel, a lot of community support.

"Our fan base is (down), sometimes to the point of shameful. I've talked to coaches who don't even like coming here anymore.

"We have to win back the community. We have to get (players) out in the community. And whoever comes in has to know how to recruit.''

The new coach will also need strong backing from UAA, Christiansen said, and will require resources to put the program on equal footing in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Christiansen remembers well the excitement at Sullivan Arena, particularly in the early 90s, when UAA averaged more than 6,000 fans per game for four straight seasons. UAA's average announced attendance this past season was 2,729, the lowest since 1983-84, the program's first season at Sullivan.

If UAA can recapture the hockey community to a significant degree, the founder of Seawolves hockey believes the program can flourish again.

"Hopefully,'' Christiansen said, "we win back their hearts and fill that building.''

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