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UAA: Shyiak's hit should have been reported to police

Doyle Woody
Former UAA head coach Dave Shyiak instructs players on the first official day of hockey practice Monday September 24, 2012 at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. Erik Hill

Striking an athlete for any reason is unacceptable and a 2011 incident in which UAA's then-head hockey coach hit a player with his stick during a practice drill should have been reported to campus police, a school spokeswoman said.

Kristin DeSmith, assistant vice chancellor for university relations, made those statements in a cover letter that accompanied the school's release of a 49-page report about the 2011 incident compiled by investigator Steve Goetz of the UAF Police Department.

University of Alaska counsel instructed Goetz to investigate a January 2011 incident in which then-coach Dave Shyiak struck forward Nick Haddad with his stick after Haddad incorrectly performed a drill. That incident first became public when the Daily News reported it in May 2013, about six weeks after Shyiak was fired following eight losing seasons.

Goetz spent roughly a month interviewing UAA staff, players and coaches, including Shyiak and then-athletic director Steve Cobb, who was fired May 29, before issuing his report. The report was released in response to a public-records request by the Daily News.

Goetz's investigation confirmed Haddad was not injured when Shyiak struck him across the front of his hockey pants. Haddad, in a statement he issued in May, said he was not hurt and accepted Shyiak's apology, and he told Goetz that Shyiak was not a violent coach.

Shyiak told Goetz he was trying to get Haddad's attention and "get him focused on doing the drill correctly,'' according to the report.

Witnesses interviewed by Goetz were split on the severity of Shyiak's stick-work. Shyiak, Haddad, center Craig Parkinson and equipment manager Patrick Robertson said the blow was not nearly as hard as portrayed by winger Mickey Spencer in a May 1 letter to UA President Patrick Gamble and the Board of Regents. Spencer described it as a "baseball-style'' swing in his letter, which precipitated a series of event that led to Goetz's investigation. Three unidentified players Goetz cited as confidential informants agreed with Spencer's description.

In any event, "we believe that striking a student-athlete for correction, or for any reason, is not acceptable conduct,'' DeSmith wrote.

"The investigation also established that while Athletic Director Steve Cobb reviewed a 3rd-hand allegation in good faith, no investigation was conducted nor was the allegation referred for investigation," she wrote. "Given the nature of the allegation, a possible assault, and the fact that an incident of some sort was confirmed by the coach, the matter should have been referred to police in 2011.''

 

No policy in place

Goetz called Cobb's review of the incident in 2011 a "very sparsely conducted inquiry'' and recommended UAA develop written standard operating procedures (SOP) to deal with such incidents.

Goetz in his report said the SOP should detail what would minimally constitute an investigation and how high up the chain of command incidents should be reported. The SOP should be circulated at the school, he said.

None of the three UAA senior athletic department officials Goetz asked to cite a written SOP -- Cobb, then-associate athletic director and current interim athletic director Tim McDiffett, and associate athletic director Dede Allen -- could do so.

"The lack of a Standard Operating Procedure related to reported criminal activity likely contributed to the incident not being fully investigated in 2011,'' Goetz wrote.

DeSmith in an email Thursday said the athletic department is currently working on written SOP, which will be included in the Student Athlete Handbook and the athletic department's Operation and Compliance Handbook, both due to be published prior to the start of the fall semester.

 

Hit not 'inappropriate'

Goetz wrote that Shyiak's action, at most, was "possibly'' misdemeanor assault, but that no charge would be referred because Haddad did not want to pursue any charge and wanted to be left alone. Any possible charges of hindering prosecution or coercion were without merit, Goetz indicated.

Shyiak told Goetz he apologized to the team the day after the incident and told the players to get back to business. Spencer and one confidential informant interviewed by Goetz took Shyiak's comments to mean they should keep quiet about the incident. But a majority of witnesses told the investigator they did not take the coach's comments as a threat.

Shyiak told Goetz he did not think striking Haddad was inappropriate and that his apology to Haddad was about "a coach and a player barking at one another," not about him hitting Haddad, Goetz wrote.

He also told Goetz he had never struck another UAA player in a similar way. Witnesses on the ice during the Shyiak-Haddad incident have previously reported the two exchanged expletives and were separated before Shyiak kicked Haddad off the ice for the remainder of practice.

 


Fading memories

Goetz talked to 23 people in his investigation and conducted formal interviews with nearly every one.

Those interviews took place 28 months after the Shyiak-Haddad incident, and virtually all of the people interviewed had some difficulty precisely recalling sequences of events, how they learned certain information or when they spoke to others.

Nothing in Goetz's report indicates UAA kept any written records, and Cobb told Goetz he had no historical emails concerning the incident.

Cobb first heard about a possible incident between Shyiak and Haddad soon after the Jan. 11, 2011 practice in which it occurred, he told Goetz. But he could not recall if his first inquiry came from Todd Christianson, a former Seawolf whose son, Bryce, previously played for Shyiak, or from a Daily News reporter.

Cobb told Goetz he asked faculty athletic representative Steve Strom to make contact with Haddad. Haddad did not respond to voice mail or email, Strom told Goetz.

Cobb told Goetz he talked to equipment manager Robertson, trainer Kevin Lechtenberg -- Lechtenberg told Goetz he did not witness the incident -- and two or three players. Cobb also somehow got word to Haddad that he wanted to talk to the player, and told Goetz that Haddad somehow relayed word that he did not want to talk and had no problem.

Cobb said he could not remember specifics of those conversations with Robertson, Lechtenberg and the players, only that he did not receive any information that alarmed him.

Next, according to Goetz's report, Cobb spoke to Shyiak. Cobb said Shyiak told him he "had contact'' with Haddad while correcting him during a drill, but denied taking a baseball-type swing. Cobb told Goetz he instructed Shyiak to "keep his hands off the players to avoid even the perception of impropriety.''

 

'I could get in trouble'

Campbell Blair, UAA's associate head coach at the time of the incident, told Goetz he was on the ice but did not witness what Shyiak did to Haddad. Players on the ice told Blair that Haddad did not stop at the net, as instructed in the drill, and "Shyiak wacked him,'' Blair told Goetz.

Blair told Goetz that when he and Shyiak later left the ice, Shyiak said, "I could get in trouble for this.''

Blair told Goetz that Shyiak never again spoke of the incident to him.

Blair also told Goetz he "didn't understand why he wasn't talked to if there was any investigation into the incident'' in 2011.

"Blair said that this incident should probably have been handled two and a half years ago and maybe Shyiak would have lost his job then; who knows,'' Goetz wrote.

Cobb told Goetz he believed he acted appropriately in 2011.

"(Cobb) said that he wouldn't change a thing that he did and if the situation happened tomorrow he would respond the same way,'' Goetz wrote.

 

Tumultuous times

Any issue about the matter was dormant until Spencer's letter to Gamble on May 1 helped trigger a series of events in a tumultuous spring filled with tough publicity for the UAA athletic department:

 

The Alaska State Hockey Association and UAA Hockey Alumni Association each passed resolutions of no-confidence in Cobb.

 

The school's search for a new hockey coach was halted because of community uproar about the make-up of the search committee and job requirements for applicants. A second search committee was appointed and the hockey job reopened under altered criteria, opening the door for the hiring of Matt Thomas to succeed Shyiak.

 

Two incoming hockey recruits rescinded their commitments and committed to other schools.

 

Cobb confirmed the NCAA was investigating UAA, but, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to say which sport was subject to inquiry or discuss specifics.

 

Powerful lobbyist Ashley Reed marshalled forces against Cobb.

 

Gov. Sean Parnell weighed in with a letter to Gamble, asking Gamble to "take a stand.''

 

Cobb, in his post for 13 years, weathered continued heat before UAA chancellor Tom Case fired him May 29, three days after Goetz interviewed Cobb. Case said "criticism of Steve has become a distraction from the great work that UAA does every day.''

 

Cobb went out with a bang: "Patrick Gamble may be mentally ill, when you give away the university to Ashley Reed and a few local scoundrels, you are by definition insane and I intend to prove it in court.''

 

Cobb's supporters publicly decried the athletic director's dismissal and said the UA system, and UAA, acquiesced to politics.

 

Members of the Board of Regents expressed dismay over negative publicity.

 

UAA went nearly three months without a head hockey coach before last month hiring Thomas.

 

Alumni take aim

Many people interviewed by Goetz believed Spencer's letter about the Shyiak-Haddad incident, and subsequent questions about what happened and how UAA handled the matter in 2011, were aimed at getting Cobb fired.

Parkinson, who was a senior assistant captain on the 2010-11 team and witnessed the hit, told Goetz he believed UAA alumni orchestrated events.

"(He) seemed hesitant to speak further," Goetz wrote, "but did admit that he had spoken to a few alumni who admitted they are doing this to get Cobb fired. Parkinson asked these alumni if they could look Shyiak in the face and tell him he needs to be criminally charged for what happened and never coach again, because that's what's going to happen. They responded by saying that it's not about Shyiak. They said that they're trying to get Cobb fired.

"...Parkinson's point was that you can't try and ruin one man's life to get a different guy fired."

Goetz said Fitzgerald provided him with a copy of a petition that UAA hockey alumni allegedly sent to UAA hockey's senior class of 2013. Goetz in his report wrote that Fitzgerald believed bullet points cited in the petition were designed to suggest Cobb covered up the Shyiak-Haddad incident.

Fitzgerald told Goetz that Spencer's letter to Gamble "essentially used the bullet points and language from the petition.''

Goetz in his report noted 10 instances in which language in Spencer's letter bore similarities to bullet points on the petition.

UAA on Tuesday held a press conference to introduce Thomas as head hockey coach.

The school is searching for Cobb's replacement.

 

Contact Doyle Woody or Beth Bragg at 257-4335 or find Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog.

 


By DOYLE WOODY
and BETH BRAGG