FAIRBANKS -- The last time Erik Drygas saw a high school hockey game was 1993. He was playing in it as a member of the Lathrop High School hockey team.
In that state tournament game, Drygas said the Malemutes defeated the cross-town West Valley Wolfpack for fourth place.
Now, more than six years since that game -- and almost four years after suffering a career-ending neck injury during a practice session when he was a University of Alaska Fairbanks defenseman -- Drygas will be changing school colors.
On Monday, Drygas, who was paralyzed by the 1996 on-ice accident, was named head coach of the West Valley Wolfpack, replacing Shawn Lundgren, who stepped down after nine seasons at West Valley.
"We had a couple of people in mind, but the more we talked to people in the hockey community the more Erik's name kept coming up," West Valley activities director Mike Hubbard said Monday afternoon. "When you mention his name to people in the hockey community, they attest to his organizational skills and knowledge of X's and O's."
Of course, that means that Drygas is now adopting the school colors of the team he hated most when he was a high school player in Fairbanks.
"That was one of the first things that came up when we talked about the job," Drygas said Monday night. "I played for Lathrop and they've retired my jersey, but I don't think I'll have a problem with that.
"I'm just really excited to get this opportunity," Drygas added.
Hubbard said it didn't take him long to decide that Drygas was the man for the job.
"He has the love of the game," Hubbard said. "We needed somebody to come in and take the job for the right reason and that's for the love of the game."
Drygas said he was a little surprised when the opportunity to take over the Wolfpack program came up last week.
"Everybody knows I'd like to get back into hockey as an assistant coach or a head coach," Drygas said. "It was definitely a pleasant surprise when this came up and it's an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
Once the job offer was put into words late last week, it didn't take Drygas long to make up his mind.
"We talked about it last Thursday and I thought about it over the weekend," Drygas said. "I liked what I heard from Mike and decided to take the job."
Being confined to a motorized wheelchair, Drygas knows there are some obstacles to overcome, but he's ready to take up the challenge.
"There are some obstacles as far as access to benches and stuff like that, but between myself, the school and my assistants we'll be able to work around them," he said. "Those kinds of obstacles won't be hard to overcome."
Drygas also knows he's got a lot of work to do before practice begins a little more than a month from now.
"I've got a lot to do between now and the first practice," he said. "I'll be talking with a lot of people, assistants and other coaches, to get everything in order.
"Shawn Lundgren did an excellent job at West Valley for nine years and last year they finished second at state, so I've got some big shoes to fill," Drygas added.
Dave Laurion, who was the head coach at UAF when Drygas was injured, was ecstatic when he heard the news that Drygas had been hired to run the Wolfpack program.
"He's always said he wanted to get into coaching and I know he'll do a good job because he understands the game so well," Laurion said Monday night from his home in Anchorage. "I'm excited for him."
Drygas has worked as a radio commentator on UAF hockey broadcasts for the past several years and Laurion said that will be to the rookie coach's advantage.
"He's seen the game from a different perspective and I think that's an added benefit," Laurion said. "He's had a bird's eye view and I'm sure Eric will use that to his advantage."
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