Unfortunate news today comes down from UAA Athletic Director, Dr. Steve Cobb when he announced this morning in a press release, saying "Seawolf hockey has been a storied history for several years here in Anchorage, but due to the current economic situation, and the struggle that the hockey club has battled for the past several years, the UAA athletic department will be unable to fund the Seawolf hockey program effective the 2011 season." Some unfortunate words for any Seawolf fan to hear.
The news comes at a time where emotions are running low. The Seawolves have posted their 17th consecutive losing season, they lost all three of the in-state tournaments to their northern rivals, and the team has posted the most losses (23) since Shyiak's first season being named head coach in 2005. Several of the Seawolves best players have subsequently left the squad shortly after the Wisconsin Badgers ended their post-season early, including Lee Baldwin, a touted freshman who recently signed on with the New York Rangers of the NHL. "It's a case where all a hockey player wants to do is contribute to the efforts of a successful team. It's very taxing emotionally to play for a team that can barely muster 10 wins a season, its hard, it really is." Baldwin said by telephone. "I'm just hoping I can come to New York and play for the Rangers or the Wolf Pack or whatever, and have the chance to move on and not only myself be successful, but also have that success reflect on our team's win-loss record."
When asked about the situation, Seawolf head coach Dave Shyiak responded by angrily throwing a water bottle off of the press conference table, shouting "IT'S AN EXTREMELY UNFORTUNATE SITUATION!!!"
Shortly after being ejected from the media room, coach Shyiak responded from the parking lot, saying "we have quality student-athletes with a desire to play college hockey at the division one level, and they can't do that in Anchorage anymore. Not all of our players have the talent to succeed at the NHL level. Relatively speaking, our team has been making some progress, we've boasted a few upsets over some big teams this year, but we didn't get a lot of the wins that we needed to get." he said. "The real misfortune lies with our players though, a few of them have some great talents that I hope don't go to waste, but for the rest of them, this could be the end of the road."
The current UAA roster will be permitted to finish the current semester, but for those on scholarship, this will be the final semester in their academic campaign. Seawolf junior and Fairbanks native Nick Haddad said in an interview "Yeah, it's kind of unfortunate. We haven't been as good of a team as I think everyone else wants us to be. I'm not too sure what I'm gonna do now. I don't want to be stuck on the outside, looking in" he said. "They passed on me before, but hopefully I'll get to play for the Nanooks."
Since officially joining the WCHA, the Seawolves have yet to register a winning season. For several teams that have objected to their admission in the first place, losing the Seawolves from the conference may come as a bit of a miniature victory, but now, along with the CCHA, the WCHA will also boast an 11 team roster, a scheduling nightmare for any conference to undertake.
After it was announced late last year that the College Hockey America conference would be folding after the 2009-10 season, several teams have applied to various conferences for solace for the upcoming 2010-11 season, one of which was the Beavers of Bemidji State University.
Bemidji State submitted their application to the WCHA back in January of 2009, and admission was made clear that it was dependant upon the application of a 2nd team. WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod was very adament that an uneven team count was not going to be an option. "We considered giving Alaska-Anchorage the boot at the time, but taking away a win or four from most of our conference members didn't seem like a viable option, especially since the Seawolves pay for most of their opponent's travel costs up to Anchorage for their home series." he said. "Having Nebraska-Omaha jump over to the WCHA now seems like a waste, adding another team to prevent a situation that we are now in with an odd number of teams." McLeod said. "I try not to look at losing Anchorage as a negative. Although difficult, I look at it as an opportunity for a positive. Not having our players travel up to Alaska for a two game series is a definite advantage, considering the cost, as well as the travel time." he added. "As well as the benefit of losing an underperforming team from our elitist conference."
Whilst losing their hockey program, the Anchorage Seawolves now have the opportunity to refocus the money spent on their hockey program elsewhere. Since the news broke, rumors have flew around the campus about what the department would do with the additional funding. Some say it may go towards the savings for a new athletics facility, some have said it should go to the ailing Anchorage academics, while most indications point to the funds being redirected to an Athletic Director's Discretionary Fund that has yet to be established.
When asked about the existing staff contracts with the team's coaches and trainers, UAA AD Dr. Steve Cobb said by telephone "the remainder of the contracts for coach Shyiak and others will be continued until end of term." he said. "Folks like Patrick Robertson, the equipment manager will be utilizing his strengths by keeping the department's office supply cabinet fully stocked of paper and pens. Coach Shyiak will also be a useful addition in our department, especially in our cross country running programs, throwing water bottles to our athletes as they run through the trails to keep them hydrated."
I had a chance to catch up with the final team captain of the Seawolves, senior Jared Tuton at the UAA bookstore, while he was shopping for Seawolf hockey trinkets and attire. He said "these things are going to be antiques pretty soon. I figured now would be the best time to take advantage of my 10% players discount, getting back that $9.35 in savings. That can be some important money when you know you probably won't have a job." Tuton said. "I even got Kevin Clark a Kevin Clark jersey, because Kevin Clark is his favorite player." he added.
Seven of the 27 players on the Seawolf squad were seniors this past season, leaving 20 with a bout of uncertainty for next year. Some players will look to transfer schools, or sign into amateur tryout contracts with teams at various levels, however most, may go back to juniors.