ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The University of Alaska Anchorage is investigating an allegation that its former hockey coach struck a player with a hockey stick, another black mark for the beleaguered program which suspended a search for a new coach after naming four finalists earlier this month.
Ex-player Mickey Spencer alleges in an email dated May 1 to university officials that former coach Dave Shyiak hit another player, Nick Haddad, with a hockey stick during an on-campus practice in 2011.
Spencer claims the hit was a “’baseball-style’ swing across the midsection because Nick messed up in a practice drill,” Spencer wrote in the email to the University of Alaska Regents, university President Pat Gamble and Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Tom Case. The Anchorage Daily News first reported the allegation Tuesday.
“This was not a typical slash that sometimes occurs in hockey. It was hard and it was violent,” Spencer wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Shyiak and Haddad argued after the hit, and Haddad was kicked out of practice, wrote Spencer, who once was suspended by Shyiak for a game for a major penalty in a game shortly before he left the program in December 2011, the Daily News reported.
Spencer, who says he left because of a philosophical difference with Shyiak, claimed the next day Shyiak told players not to talk publicly about the incident.
Haddad doesn’t have a phone listing in Alaska, and didn’t immediately respond to a Facebook message from the AP seeking comment.
Shyiak admits he rapped Haddad on the shins with a stick to “wake him up as to what was happening in the drills,” said the coach’s attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, who added it was nothing more than that.
What Shyiak does feel bad about was exchanging words with a player, Fitzgerald said.
If the allegation from the Jan. 11, 2011, incident is true, it may constitute criminal behavior and has been forwarded to law enforcement, the university said in a prepared statement.
Leading the investigation will be Stephen Goetz, an investigator with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department. Officials said since this alleged incident was more than two years old, and the alleged victim hasn’t come forward, it was unlikely other law enforcement agencies would investigate. Goetz was chosen since he had no ties to the Anchorage campus.
University officials said a third party reported “a similar concern” in 2011. Athletic director Steve Cobb followed protocol, the release said, and referred the allegation to Steve Strom, a faculty member with no ties to the athletic department, to investigate.
The university says Strom emailed the alleged victim more than once, called once and left a voicemail but never heard back. Since there was no corroboration at the time, staff members determined no further action was warranted. However, the university says Cobb addressed the concerns with the coach.
“Despite the age of the allegation, recent disclosures affecting other athletic programs across the county make us all too aware that athletes may not be willing to report abuse,” the university said when announcing it was also conducting an internal review to determine how that 2011 investigation was handled.
The university said to protect alleged victims or university personnel, it would not identify the sport or anyone involved.
Shyiak was fired in March after going 80-177-33 in eight seasons. In one of his last games leading the Seawolves, Cobb reprimanded him for throwing a water bottle onto the ice in a loss to Alaska Fairbanks.
Four finalists were chosen to replace Shyiak, but shortly after the last on-campus interview earlier this month, and two days after receiving Spencer’s email, university officials suspended the hiring process.
That action came after the UAA Hockey Alumni Association issued a no-confidence vote in Cobb after what it said had been years of estrangement. The vote followed another no-confidence vote approved by the Alaska State Hockey Association.
Fitzgerald said the timing of the complaint against Shyiak should raise red flags, especially since the incident happened two years ago, it’s not the alleged victim reporting it, and Shyiak has already been fired.
“This is all directed toward getting rid of Dr. Cobb, and Dave Shyiak is the unfortunate victim,” he said.
The coaching search was reopened with a Friday deadline to apply. The first four finalists remain in the running, and the university hopes to hire someone by June 15.
Kristin DeSmith, an assistant vice chancellor, said the decision to reopen the search process didn’t have anything to do with Spencer’s email.
“The decision to halt and then reopen the hockey coach search was to retool the search criteria a bit and then to form a supplemental search committee made up of hockey alumni, hockey community members and UAA leadership,” she said in an email to the AP.