Dallas Ferguson, the longest-tenured head coach in UAF hockey history, has resigned after nine seasons to take a similar gig with the Calgary Hitmen of the major-junior Western Hockey League.
UAF and Calgary announced the move Tuesday morning, when Ferguson appeared at a press conference in Calgary and UAF issued a news release saying it will soon name an interim head coach.
Ferguson, 44, made arguably the most significant impact on Nanooks hockey of anyone in the program's 38-season history — he served as player, assistant coach and head coach across three decades. He was a star defenseman from 1992-96 and captain his senior season, an assistant from 2004-08 and bench boss since 2008. His nine seasons as head coach mark the most among the seven head coaches in program history.
Ferguson, whose four seasons as a professional player included three for the Anchorage Aces, will remain at his UAF post until Aug. 17. In Calgary, he replaces Mark French, who departed after three seasons to take a head coaching job in Switzerland's National League A.
The move to Calgary returns Ferguson to his home province of Alberta. He's from Wainwright.
Ferguson at UAF helped develop elite players like NHL veteran goaltender Chad Johnson of the Buffalo Sabres and young star defenseman Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues.
Ferguson guided the Nanooks to the 2010 NCAA tournament one season after he was voted the Central Collegiate Hockey Association's Coach of the Year. The Nanooks compete in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, along with rival UAA.
Under Ferguson, the Nanooks on the ice won the Governor's Cup, the annual competition against UAA, eight times in nine seasons. But UAF vacated three of those Cups as part of NCAA sanctions for academic violations the school said were the fault of administrators and staff, not athletes, and the NCAA said showed an inadequate compliance system and lack of institutional control.
The WHL is a principal developmental league that serves as a pipeline to the NHL. It is one of three largely Canadian-based major-junior circuits for players ages 16-20 — the WHL and Ontario Hockey League include some U.S. teams. Fourteen of the 31 first-round picks in the recent NHL draft played last season in the WHL, OHL or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and seven of those 14 played in the WHL.
Ferguson's departure leaves UAF with a short window to replace him. Long-time Nanooks assistant Lance West appears a logical choice as interim head coach. He served under Ferguson for eight seasons and was a volunteer coach for the Nanooks for two seasons before that. UAF's other assistant coach is Erik Largen, who is entering his second season.