Our long national nightmare is over. Alaska-Anchorage has finally hired their new men's hockey head coach.
Matt Thomas of the Stockton Thunder (ECHL) has been hired by the school to be the fifth head coach in Seawolves history. He replaces Dave Shyiak, who was fired in March after compiling an 80-177-33 (.333) record in eight seasons.
Most recently, UAA went 4-27-5 and finished last in the WCHA for the second straight season.
"I would like to thank (UAA vice chancellor) Dr. Spindle, the search committee, (interim athletic director) Tim McDiffett and the entire UAA Athletics staff for this tremendous opportunity to lead the Seawolf Hockey program," Thomas said in a statement released by the school. "This is an exciting challenge as we try to take UAA hockey to the next level in a year full of change. The new look of the WCHA and college hockey landscape offers a unique opportunity for our student-athletes. I am committed to the individual success of our players and want to let them know they will be an integral part of restoring a winning tradition."
One of six finalists for the job, Thomas comes to Alaska-Anchorage after nine seasons as a head coach/GM in the ECHL. Those includes stops in Stockton (2009-2013) - where he led the Thunder to the Kelly Cup this past season - Fresno (2005-2008) and Atlantic City (2004). He has the fifth-most wins in league history with 342; including a 163-127-39 record with Stockton.
Prior to coaching in the ECHL, Thomas, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, played four seasons (1994-1998) at RIT (then a D-III school). He captained the Tigers to an NCAA berth and No. 1 ranking as a senior while capturing all-star honors.
He then spent three years as an assistant coach in NCAA. Thomas was an assistant for two seasons in Maine (2000-2002) following one at RIT (1998-1999). His time with the Black Bears included being a part of the 2002 Maine team who were the national runner-up that season.
"We're very excited that Matt Thomas will be joining Seawolf Athletics as our new head hockey coach," said Dr. Spindle. "Matt's extensive experience as a head coach, coupled with his incredible enthusiasm for rolling up his sleeves and facing UAA's program challenges head-on, make him the right choice to led the Seawolves as we head into a new league and a new season this fall."
Thomas' hire ends a long and tumultuous coaching search. An initial coaching search produced four finalists for the job but upset Alaska-Anchorage hockey supporters who criticized the lack of any "hockey person" on the committee. The search was re-opened with two of the four finalists being joined by four new coaching candidates; including Thomas.
Additionally, allegations of Shyiak hitting a player in practice and the handling of it coupled with the hockey coaching search - both the Alaska State Hockey Association and UAA Hockey Alumni Association had given a non-binding vote of no confidence - ended with UAA athletic director Dr. Steve Cobb resigning.
"I have always admired the sense of community and pride that is associated with Anchorage and the entire state of Alaska, and our entire family is excited about the move," Thomas said. "It truly is a ‘hockey state.' My goal is to bring back the passion for UAA hockey and produce a winner for the community, alumni and our fan base."
Alaska-Anchorage will play in the new-look WCHA next season. Along with holdovers Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State-Mankato, the Seawolves will be joined by former members of the now-defunct CCHA Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan. Alabama-Huntsville, who spent the last three seasons as an independent, will be the conference's tenth member.
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