Only one man in the running to be the new hockey coach at UAA has experience coaching NCAA hockey, and Steve Murphy said he’ll put that experience to work immediately if he gets the job.
Murphy, 36, is the head coach at Buffalo State, a Division III school where he has compiled a 73-47-12 record since becoming the head coach five years ago.
The Bengals were a sub-.500 team for many seasons before Murphy took over, and he believes he was able to turn things around by expanding the program’s recruiting horizons.
Murphy said one of the first things he did was examine where Buffalo State’s players came from. He discovered half of them came from eastern Canada, and that told him a change in philosophy was needed.
“We wanted to really diversify and expand that recruiting pool,” he said. “In my first full recruiting season we recruited six guys from the league that we had not had on our roster, we brought in one transfer, we brought in three European players and we brought in two players from western Canada.
“And what that resulted in was 73 wins, which were the most in any five-year span in program history. We had players set more individual records, we set more team records, we had more All-Americans and we had more players with all-conference honors in those five years than at any other time in school history.”
Murphy is one of three finalists in the running to coach the Seawolves, who haven’t had a winning season since 2013. He said when he looked at UAA rosters from recent years, he found something similar to what he saw at Buffalo State: Nearly 50% of the Seawolves came from western Canada.
He believes that needs to change.
“For whatever reason, the majority of the players coming from western Canada isn’t working right now, it’s not amounting to success on the ice. So we have to look at different avenues,” he said.
Murphy said he’ll look for players from North American junior leagues, Europe and the NCAA transfer portal -- which last year had 400 players, he said -- and he’ll look for graduate-student transfers.
”It’s not that we don’t want to recruit kids from western Canada,” he said. “... (W)e need to expand our recruiting base, and that’s my plan.”
Murphy is a Dimond High graduate who played high school hockey for longtime Lynx coach and UAA alum Dennis Sorenson. Except for one season as a player for the now-defunct Wasilla Spirit junior hockey team and one season as an assistant coach for the Kenai River Brown Bears junior hockey team, Murphy has spent his adult life in the Lower 48.
Other colleges have approached him about coaching positions, he said, but the UAA job is the only one he has pursued.
“I’m a hometown guy,” he said. “I love Alaska. I want to be part of the solution to fix the program.
“For me, this is a chance to be part of the solution to bring UAA hockey back.”
Murphy is the second of three finalists to take questions from boosters, alumni and others at an online forum.
Matt Shasby, a social studies teacher at Northern Lights ABC and a former player for the Seawolves and Alaska Aces, had his turn Wednesday. Chris Cosentino, who spent 10 years coaching New York University’s club hockey team and now coaches youth hockey in New York City, will appear on Friday.
The man who gets the job will be tasked with reviving UAA hockey, axed by the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents a year ago.
The program recently was saved by a fundraising campaign that brought in $3 million in less than a year, but the Seawolves didn’t play last season and they won’t play this season.
The new coach will need to recruit an entire team and build an entire schedule in time for the 2022-23 season (practices for that season begin in less than 12 months). The new coach will need to convince recruits that hockey has a future at UAA.
“The biggest thing we would we need to fix right now is the perception of the program but there’s a lot of positives that I’ve seen just today,” Murphy said. When speaking with recruits, it will be important to “instill the confidence that this program is in it for the long haul and that the support will be there,” he said.
“... We can sit here and discuss all the negative things (and) what we don’t have. I prefer to focus on the things we do have here, and that’s the opportunity to play Division I hockey; we have a Division I/pro-caliber locker room; and ultimately yes, we get back to Sullivan (Arena) and make that our home.”
Murphy said he would explore scheduling some games, maybe a tournament, at Seattle’s new NHL arena. The Seattle Kraken, an NHL expansion team, made significant contributions to UAA’s fundraising effort, and there may be ways to build on that relationship, he said.
“I don’t know if that’s a possibility, but it’s one of the ways we have to be creative,” Murphy said.