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UAA Athletics

Former UAA hockey coach laments lack of success, says university commitment lacking

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: March 7, 2018
  • Published March 6, 2018

UAA hockey coach Matt Thomas talks to his team during practice on Dec. 6, 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive 2017)

Matt Thomas understands why he is losing the job he loved and is preparing to leave the city he loves.

The UAA hockey coach for five years, Thomas was let go by the university last week. He was at the end of a five-year contract and coming off one of the worst seasons in school history, and the school chose not to renew his contract.

"I'll be fine," Thomas said last week as he cleaned out his office. "This is the business.

"… We're required to have results, and I'm not immune to that. I wish I could have delivered for the fans and the hockey community of Anchorage, because they deserve it."

Thomas, 41, was 48-105-21 in five seasons and a career-worst 4-26-4 in his most recent season. "Obviously we didn't have the results that we worked hard for," he said.

Thomas said he was committed to revitalizing UAA hockey after a contentious period after the firing of his predecessor, but he doesn't think the university shared that commitment, especially in the last two years.

"There's been an obvious drop in commitment from the university to the hockey program," Thomas said. "Two years ago their recommendation was to eliminate hockey.

"… The commitment level today is nowhere near where it was when I first arrived."

The biggest thing, he said, was a committee's recommendation in the summer of 2016, to eliminate hockey as a way to deal with deep, system-wide budget cuts.

"That was tough to overcome," Thomas said.

It made recruiting "extremely difficult," he said, and although the recommendation to eliminate hockey and a handful of other sports never came to fruition, people in the hockey world still remember that UAA's program was in jeopardy.

"It's a daily question when we're talking to a recruit or the coach of a junior team: 'Is your program folding?' It's still very much a topic of conversation," Thomas said.

Thomas also noted that two top administrators involved in his hiring — former chancellor Tom Case and vice chancellor for administrative services Bill Spindle — have both left the university.

Interim athletic director Tim McDiffett last week pointed out the school's recent renovations to the hockey team's on-campus locker room and training area, improvements that Thomas praised.

"They did a real good job," he said, but he called the improvements "just keeping up."

"It was needed long before," Thomas added.

Thomas, whose $200,000 annual salary made him the athletic department's highest-paid employee, is the fifth man to serve as UAA's head hockey coach. He's the fourth in a row who failed to win with consistency.

Team founder Brush Christiansen won a little more than half of his games during a 17-year career from 1980-96, much of which came before the Seawolves joined the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 1993.

After Christiansen came four coaches who had at least one thing in common: each lost roughly two-thirds of his games.

Thomas compiled a .336 winning percentage in five seasons, Dave Shyiak had a .332 percentage in eight seasons, John Hill had a .325 percentage in four seasons and Dean Talafous had a .338 percentage in five seasons.

"There's not been a string of bad hires," Thomas said. "Every coach that's been here, they've worked hard, extremely hard. So when you've got 25 years of kind of the same result, you gotta start looking somewhere else where the issues are.

"… This is an incredible place with incredible people. I'm most proud of the relationships I had with my players and the integrity I displayed with UAA, with the hockey community, with those players. I think it's critical that the commitment level from the administration match the expectations (for) the next coach.

"Because this program can be a great program. And like all programs, you need all hands on deck."

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