The offseason roller-coaster ride for Alaska's Division I college hockey teams ended Monday when the University of Alaska Fairbanks picked a head coach who hadn't been among its publicly announced finalists for the job.
Erik Largen, a 31-year-old West Valley graduate who was a backup goaltender for the Nanooks from 2006-08, will be the youngest head coach in the sport next season.
He spent two seasons as an assistant coach at UAF, one season as the head coach at Division III Marian University of Wisconsin, and two seasons as an assistant coach for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs junior team.
His hiring came two weeks after instate rival UAA hired Matt Curley, who like Largen wasn't the first choice for the job.
Curley, 35, was hired after three others reportedly turned down the job to coach the Seawolves. Largen was hired after one of UAF's two finalists reportedly declined the job.
"Maybe I wasn't the first choice," Largen said at a Monday press conference, "but I was the last choice. I'll make sure I make the most of it."
Various college hockey reporters cited, anonymously, that finalist Brent Brekke declined the UAF job earlier this month. The other finalist was Lance West, a UAF assistant for nine seasons who became the interim head coach for 2017-18 when Dallas Ferguson resigned after the 2016-17 season.
Both men appeared at public forums in Fairbanks earlier this month. UAF said it would announce its new coach April 15, according to a report by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, but that date came and went with no news. The school made no public statement about the job search until Monday, when it announced Largen's hiring.
Largen said he did not apply for the job when it first came open.
"Obviously with Lance being involved in the process, I wanted to see him go all the way through it," he said at the press conference.
West on Monday told the News-Miner that he's not sure what he'll do next.
"I'm just getting packed up and looking at what the options are," he told the newspaper.
In Largen and Curley, UAF and UAA will have the youngest coaches in Division I hockey for the 2018-19 season.
UAF's selection of Largen came 31 years after the Nanooks hired a 28-year-old as their head coach. Don Lucia, who turned 29 before the start of the 1987-88 season, left UAF with a winning record and went on to win two NCAA championships at Minnesota before resigning this season at age 59.
UAA and UAF are members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. They are among 60 Division I teams in the nation, but both faced difficulties this spring when faced with hiring a new coach.
Both programs were among those considered for elimination two years ago by Strategic Pathways, a university-backed review that offers options for dealing with severe budget cuts throughout the University of Alaska.
And both are part of athletic departments being run by interim athletic directors — Tim McDiffett at UAA and Kayne Gutierrez at UAF. That means Largen, Curley and all of the other candidates for the hockey jobs went through the hiring process without knowing who their bosses will be.
At his press conference, Largen indirectly addressed the issue of Alaska's hockey teams being on the chopping block not that long ago.
"Over the last couple seasons, there has been some doubts," he said. "We hear that a lot on the recruiting trail. I want people to know that Alaska hockey is here. It's here to stay. We're going to be fine. We're going to be better than ever."
Correction: Keith Champagne was misidentified in an early version of the photo caption.