Letter to UAA from former hockey player Mickey Spencer
Dear University of Alaska Board of Regents, University of Alaska President Gamble, and University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Case,
I was a member of the UAA Men’s Hockey team from Fall Semester 2009 until December 2011. In the fairness of full-disclosure, I want to inform you I voluntarily left the team due to philosophical differences with then Head Coach Dave Shyiak.
An example of my differences with Coach Shyiak was when I was suspended for taking a “bad” penalty in a game against Minnesota-Mankato. In all honesty, I understood the suspension for my infraction and accepted my fate. But what I didn’t get was Coach Shyiak telling me, “If you’re asked why you’re sitting out, just tell them that it happens, we are struggling and sometimes you get scratched.” Shyiak then told me, “It won’t look good and will just be a big distraction if the headline in tomorrow’s paper reads, ‘Leading Scorer for UAA Suspended.’” My Head Coach was telling me to flat-out lie!
You’ll come to see in the rest of this letter how there are other examples of this and hopefully understand why I decided to leave UAA and the hockey program.
My other intention of writing you is regarding an incident that occurred on Tuesday January 11, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Sports Center on the UAA campus during a scheduled Men’s Ice Hockey team practice.
Head Coach Dave Shyiak forcefully struck player Nick Haddad with a hockey stick in a “baseball-style” swing across the mid-section because Nick messed up in a practice drill. This was not a typical slash that sometimes occurs in hockey. It was hard and it was violent. I personally, along with many teammates, witnessed this assault. Nick argued with Coach Shyiak immediately after it occurred and Coach Shyiak kicked him out of practice, and off the ice. Additionally, Coach Shyiak called the team into a huddle afterwards and more or less said he did not care if he faced repercussions for what just occurred.
The next day, on Wednesday January 12, 2011 Coach Shyiak conducted a team meeting in the locker room and instructed team members not to speak about the incident. In more specific words, Shyiak told the team to reply, “No comment, we were preparing for this weekend and things can get intense, it was nothing out of the ordinary,” if asked about the assault.
To say that we players feared for our playing time and scholarships if we spoke up is an understatement. You need to understand that though hockey players get an education at UAA, hockey is why they go there. Every player has aspirations of playing professionally after college. Put yourself in a position of knowing that if you speak up, you risk having everything taken away and never playing again.
Still to this day, past & present players that witnessed the assault are hesitant to come forward for fear of retaliation. They fear they will be bad-mouthed in the hockey world so they cannot pursue professional hockey after college or with their next team in the pro ranks. What professional coach would want a “whistle-blower” on their team? When you live with that type of fear, of course you will not come forward with the truth.
This all brings me to my next point: What did Athletic Director Dr. Steve Cobb and the Athletic Department do about this assault? I know Dr. Cobb was informed about this incident via email by alumni. Who else in the Athletic Department knew about it? Did they launch an investigation and what was the depth of it? Was the entire team questioned? Is there any report of this in Dave Shyiak’s personnel file? Do you think that a representative from the University should contact the players from the 2011 – 2012 team and look for more details in this incident? Should there be sworn statements given by Athletic Department personnel and players?
I firmly believe that though we were instructed by our Head Coach to keep our mouths shut, had all of the players been interviewed by the Athletic Department, the truth of the assault would have come out. Getting to sit down with the Athletic Director in a face to face meeting may have helped some of us to overcome our fear of losing playing time and scholarships.
Everyone in the Anchorage hockey community knows about the assault (http://amandacoyne.com/news/why-is-uaa-letting-hockey-go-up-in-smoke/) and eventually all of this will be made public when past players no longer fear retaliation. Why has it not been investigated by the University?
I cannot speak for you, but I have to believe the longer this stays covered up, the worse it will be when it comes out. Penn State, Rutgers and now the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/9227839/ryan-bross...) incidents are all prime examples of what happens when there is an Athletic Department cover-up of gross abuse and violations by a coach or authority figures.
The job of the Athletic Director should not only be to protect the reputation of the institution, but also to provide a safe, healthy environment for student-athletes to pursue academics and athletics. I don’t believe that has been the case with the administration in the Athletic Department.
In closing, you can interpret this email however you wish. Say that I am disgruntled for my experience at UAA, or my experience with Coach Shyiak. Say whatever you wish. But I can no longer sit back and know that this went on and not inform someone about it. I hope to have children one day, and should they ever be athletes, I would hope that if something like this happened to them, someone would speak out and stand up for them.
I am happy to go on the record publicly or privately.
UAA Men’s Hockey 2009 – 2011