Tanner Schachle of Wasilla has been front and center for the UAA hockey team during his 2 1/2 years with the Seawolves, a statistical leader on the ice and a vocal advocate for the imperiled program off the ice.
He’s a second-generation Alaska college player — his dad, Trent, played for the Nanooks in Fairbanks — and when he finishes his hockey career, he wants to raise a family in Alaska, where any children will no doubt play hockey too.
And so it pained him, deeply, when he reached what he considers an inevitable conclusion: The end of his days with the Seawolves.
Schachle recently transferred from UAA to Long Island University. He is playing hockey for the Sharks, a Division I team in New York that offers him something the Seawolves can’t: a future.
With this season canceled because of COVID-19 concerns and the program slated for elimination next season barring the success of a daunting fundraising effort, UAA may never play another NCAA hockey game.
That stark reality drove Schachle — and several of his teammates — out of Alaska.
Schachle is one of nine UAA players who have transferred to other schools in the last few weeks. Another 14 have announced their intentions to find another place to play hockey by entering the NCAA transfer portal, which manages the transfer process and lets athletes declare their intentions to consider other schools.
“I started having the discussion with Coach Curley and my parents when they announced we would not be competing this year,” Schachle said. “Given the fact that as of right now there will not be another year after this, it dawned on me I’m going to have to find a different home, and it’s not going to be my home.”
Of the nine players who have transferred to other Division I schools, four are freshmen who never played for the Seawolves. The other five include four forwards who last season accounted for 61 points — about 30% of UAA’s total point production — and a backup goalie.
• Alex Frye, a sophomore forward who last season scored 14 points and a team-high nine goals. He’s headed to Northern Michigan.
• Rylee St. Onge, a sophomore forward who was the team’s second leading scorer a year ago with 17 points and eight goals. He’s going to Mercyhurst along with two freshmen — Wyatt Head and Devon Mussio.
• Nick Wicks, a sophomore forward who had 16 points and seven goals last season. He’s going to Clarkson.
• Schachle, who scored 14 points and seven goals as a sophomore and six points as a freshman.
Goaltender Brandon Perrone, who saw limited action last season, transferred to Long Island University along with Schachle. Freshman Ethan Gauer left for Bemidji State, freshman Josh Martin left for Alabama-Huntsville and sophomore defenseman Troy Robillard will finish the school year at UAA before leaving for Oswego State, a Division III school in New York.
Because of a pandemic-related NCAA rule change, transfers who go from one Division I school to another will be immediately eligible — they don’t have to sit out a year, as used to be the case.
None of the departures are a surprise to Matt Curley, who is in his third year with the Seawolves. He told players to hang tight back in August when when former chancellor Cathy Sandeen recommended cutting hockey, gymnastics and skiing as a response to deep budget cuts, a move the Board of Regents approved in September.
“At the time I was very hopeful we would play this year,” he said. “I told them … it could serve as an opportunity to showcase yourself and find a job elsewhere if we don’t survive.”
But when UAA canceled the 2020-21 season for hockey and basketball, Curley’s advice to players changed.
“The guys who were not in the transfer portal, I encouraged them to do that and explore their opportunities. I told them if something presents itself and it’s a good fit, you need to do that,” he said.
Now his roster is decimated. Seventeen players remain, 14 who are in the NCAA transfer portal plus Robillard, who has already found another team.
Schachle entered the transfer portal because he wants to keep playing college hockey. Given what’s happening at UAA, transferring was “the only option,” he said.
Long Island University, an independent team in its first year of Division I men’s hockey, contacted him quickly. Within a week, he was on the team.
“That guys could find homes right away speaks to Coach Curley and what he did in recruiting and building us,” Schachle said. “If definitely felt good, but everything was kind of bittersweet because when we signed up to play at UAA we signed up to play four years. It was very somber, for sure.”
Despite all of the players lost to transfers — and the potential to lose even more — Curley feels confident he can rebuild the roster in the event the program is able to raise $3 million by mid-February and apply for reinstatement by the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents.
He thinks the player pool for next season will be plentiful. Besides the new transfer rule that allows players to be immediately eligible, players are getting an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic and there will be the usual influx of players from junior hockey.
“The only thing that hasn’t changed is the number of roster spots available,” Curley said. “There will be opportunities to land some good people, some good players.”