Ex-UAA player says coach hit him but reports exaggerated

Doyle Woody
Erik Hill

Former UAA hockey player Nick Haddad says then-head coach Dave Shyiak hit him with a stick across the legs in a 2011 practice. While that was unacceptable, he said, a criminal investigation of the incident is ridiculous.

In a written statement sent to the Daily News and Associated Press, Haddad confirmed the incident that his former teammate, Mickey Spencer, reported this month in a letter to University of Alaska president Patrick Gamble and other school officials.

Until Wednesday, Haddad had denied that the incident happened or declined to comment.

Spencer said Shyiak "tomahawked, lumber-jacked'' Haddad with a hockey stick. Two other former players confirmed his account.

But Haddad said the blow didn't injure him.

"He hit me in the front of the pants -- anyone who has ever put on a pair of hockey pants knows a slash hitting you anywhere other than the man region is not going to hurt,'' Haddad wrote. "The loud noise from his blade slapping the pads made it sound much worse than it was actually was. I felt no pain.

"Again, I'm not justifying what coach Shyiak did or denying there was an incident. I am just saying the way it was described in the previous article was a bit exaggerated.''

Spencer said he stands by his account.

According to several accounts, after the slash Shyiak and Haddad traded expletives at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex where the team practiced, and had to be separated.

Wrote Haddad: "We exchanged words with a cluster of my teammates getting in between and separating us, and I was instructed to leave the ice. The next day I spoke with Coach Shyiak and told him he was in the wrong; he agreed with me, acknowledged his wrongdoing, and apologized. I accepted his apology, we shook hands, and I honestly haven't thought about the issue until now.''

Haddad said while he felt a Daily News story based on Spencer's account exaggerated the incident, he also faulted the behavior of Shyiak, who was fired March 29 after eight losing seasons.

"Obviously it is not acceptable for a coach to do this to one of his players, and there is no excuse for it to have happened,'' Haddad wrote. "That being said, I don't believe his intent was to injure me and I think he regretted his actions immediately.''

Haddad characterized Shyiak as an intense coach, but not a violent one.

Shyiak's attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, on Monday said his client did not assault Haddad and was only trying to get Haddad's attention after he failed to execute a drill properly.

UAA on Monday said investigator Stephen Goetz of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department is investigating the allegation against Shyiak because, "if true, (it) may constitute criminal behavior.''

The school said UAA athletic director Steve Cobb was informed of the incident by a third party in 2011, and Cobb followed department protocol in assigning faculty athletic representative Steve Strom to pursue the matter. A UAA spokeswoman said Strom tried to question Haddad, but the player did not respond to email or voicemail from Strom.

The spokeswoman declined to say whether Strom interviewed Shyiak, his coaching staff or any of the Seawolf players who were on the ice the day of the incident.

Haddad in his letter said he never replied to Strom -- and that he had denied to a Daily News reporter in 2011 that there had been an incident with Shyiak -- because he felt the matter was settled.

Spencer said he was incredulous that Strom apparently did not go to a team practice if he wanted to question Haddad.

"Really?'' Spencer said. "They know where he is at 2'oclock every day. He's not hard to find.''

The Daily News on Wednesday requested from UAA a copy of the protocol the school said Cobb followed in 2011. The school had not responded by the close of business.

Fitzgerald, Shyiak's attorney, earlier this week questioned the timing of Spencer's letter, given that critics of Cobb are calling for his ouster.

Spencer, who said he doesn't approve of on-ice incidents being taken to a courtroom, said he sent his letter to Gamble because he doesn't believe UAA properly investigated the incident in 2011.

"The biggest thing I have with this is, this happened under someone's watch,'' Spencer said. "No one was held accountable or responsible for their action. My question is, why?

"If this can happen, what else can happen in the future? I don't agree with a criminal investigation. What I am saying is, no one did their job.''

Haddad said it is not for him to judge whether UAA properly investigated what happened to him.

"Whether the University and/or Athletic Department handled the situation correctly or should have done a deeper investigation is not up to me to decide,'' Haddad wrote. "As far as the criminal investigation into Shyiak, I feel it is ridiculous and should come to an end immediately.''

UAA never reported any disciplinary action against Shyiak over the stick incident. Shyiak did receive a "formal reprimand'' from Cobb in 2010 after Shyiak was kicked out of a Governor's Cup game against UAF in Fairbanks for throwing a water bottle across the ice and then stepping onto the ice to argue with referees.


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