No use beating around the edges of an issue that's made itself so apparent over the last few days. More than a few people have made it known they've reached their limit with regard to Coach Dave Shyiak's tenure. So today I'm going to have my say.
Let me make one thing very clear, very early. I support Coach Shyiak and believe that calls for his head aren't rationally based. They come instead from emotional frustration, inaccurate perceptions about performance and personal biases. As a fan of this program since 1984, I've been through 3 distinctly different coaching changes. Brush was pressured out by a prevailing attitude that even though he'd built the program, in order to succeed in the WCHA the program would have to have a coach with a proven track record of success. Dean Talafous came here after a storied career of success at the DIII level and was essentially ousted by the players. John Hill wasn't ousted by anyone. He'd just gotten a new fat contract when he left of his own accord. Dave Shyiak was hired based on his application when Talafous was shown the door. His status as an Associate Head Coach at NMU and history as a National Championship player got him the nod.
The state of being a fan, which I call fandom; is naturally one of emotion. While there are a few of us who eruditely analyze a sport without an emotional attachment the vast majority of us are fans because of our hearts. We vicariously identify with the players. We love them and want them to win because it gives us a boost. At it's barest core, it is somewhat of an parasitical relationship. We fans feed off of the teams we cheer for. Therefore, when we aren't getting enough high quality sustenance we tend to want blood. We set aside rationality in favor of the pursuit of satiation at any cost.
So with an ongoing success rate here at UAA that doesn't measure up to some other programs; that desire for satiation is greatly enhanced. We haven't seen the sort of success we want to see in a long long time. Sure, we're still proud of our guys and enjoy the wins they've given us. But the frustration of not getting that quality sustenance regularly is straight up palpable. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths that overwhelms our reasoning faculties. It's an understandable (yet irrational) emtional response. Humans should make a habit of self-questioning our reactionary tendencies. In the case of calling for Dave Shyiak's head this is very true. We feel that way because we haven't checked our perceptions to see if they measure up to reality.
My favorite philosopher (yes ... I have a casual interest in more than one) is David Hume. His Treatise on Human Nature clearly teaches us why we see the world in the terms we see it. In the simplest terms, our experiences shape our perceptions. What we go through every day throughout our lives teaches us about the reality of our world. With that ... allow me to ask you a couple of questions. Don't you tend to recall traumatic experiences much more vividly than mundane ones? Likewise, don't you tend to embrace the memory of great success more than you do for the average? I think the answer for all of us ... to both questions ... is resoundingly yes.
So with that being the case, the memories of our recent on ice futility's is strongest in our psyche. The team got straight up pounded a few times already this season. I know those beatdowns are pretty easy to recall. So let me succinctly correct your perceptions here. Dave Shyiak's WCHA success/failure ratio is essentially the same or better than any of his predecessors. John Hill's four year average was 9-23-5; Shyiak's average over his first 4 years is 10-22-5. Talafous averaged 10 wins a year over his 5 years. Brush Christiansen averaged better than 11 wins over his 3 WCHA seasons. That's the facts. Do the math yourself.
My point here being that Dave has reached the status quo. I'm not here to argue that such a rate is acceptable. Dave Shyiak himself wouldn't try to make that argument. Instead, this display of reality should serve to reset your perceptions that somehow things are worse than you remember. They aren't. Your perceptions have played a little trick on you. It's ok ... it's human nature.
My last assetion regarding bias is somewhat lesser of an issue in terms of it's footprint. But there are some biases against Dave that exist in this community. It stems from the fact that the local hockey community here is like any other. There are lots of people in it that know what they're talking about ... right? Well, allow me just to say that they have strong opinions. Of course, opinions are like assholes, we all have one. There was much love for John Hill in local hockey community. He was from here. He played hockey in it before going to UAA and performing well there. Both he and Donnie Lucia were assistants under Brush at one time. The local hockey community here also contains some regional influences. There's lots of expat Minnesotans here ya know? Dave is a Canadian who spent most of his playing and coaching days in Northern Michigan. These biases may exist only as an undercurrent but don't think for a second that such things aren't a factor in these calls for Dave's head. I'm just sayin ...
There are other minor influences outside the three I've described here that contribute to this spate of unfortunate criticism. But I believe those three were the primary influences. I think I've shown here that they aren't reasonable.
None of what I said means that any of us should be satisfied with the level of success we're seeing from the team we so love. We shouldn't be. Our expectations are high based on everything we know. Last season's league point total, the way the team played late in the season and the potential we saw in some incoming/returning players had us all excited for the season. I promoted some of that excitement here. None of that escitement has to be diminished either. Sure there are reasons to be furtive about the rest of the season. But there are reasons to be hopeful as well. The team isn't in a horrendous position in the standings. There are winnable games on the schedule and we've seen enough indication from our guys that when they play up to their potential that they can win against anyone.
Last year I made the case somewhere on this blog that the proper time to evaluate Dave Shyiak is after his 6th year at the helm. I still believe that is the proper timeframe. A college coach has to be given the time to get the players he recruited into and through his system. Anything less is essentially unfair to him. Shyiak is just now reaching that plateau. The current senior class was recruited by Shyiak with his first set of assistant coaches. It is reasonable to begin an evaluation of Dave at the end of this season. But decisions about his future shouldn't be made until after his 6th full year. This year and next year will tell us what we can expect in the future much better than any of the past four years. Fairness demands he be given that opportunity.
Postscript Metaphor Ramble:
Questions about a coach's effectiveness are as old as sports. The coach is at the helm of the ship and as with anything in life the passengers want to know if they're going in the right direction. I think I'll stick with the ship metaphor here for a few moments because it is apt. At sea, there is one group of people that are known to be successful getting rid of the captain. The crew. Not the passengers. College Hockey has some good examples.
A player mutiny in Fairbanks a couple of years ago had a fair bit to do with Doc Delcastillo's departure. Dean Talafous' last year in Anchorage saw the players organize and approach the Athletic Director. A few years ago there was a strong mutiny by players at Canisius which ultimately ousted their coach. Typically though, the paying passengers don't usually have much of a direct say in where and how the ship gets to it's destination; it's more of cumulative thing, it takes years of complaints to the ship owners to see an effect.
Sports is a boat that you get on without even knowing the destination. The idea is to get across the ocean but not everybody can get there first; if they get there at all. We buy tickets and get on the boat for the fun of the ride. Getting to the best destination before others is just a bonus. So don't be so wrapped up in the destination eh? Enjoy the ride for what it is. You get the pleasure of watching the highest level of amateur hockey in the world when you attend a WCHA game. I'm not tell you to not rock the boat. Just try to keep it down to a level where I don't get splashed.
I saw a question on USCHO that I'd like to answer. The question essentially was; why would a recruit being courted by Northern Michigan, Bemidji St and UAA choose UAA? Lots of reasons. Not living in those other two places are the top of my list.
Just about every Divsion 1 recruit has aspirations to play professional hockey. A four year (or less) Division 1 career can contribute to that no matter which school you'd choose. The ability to get noticed comes from that players numbers and contributions on the ice. It has NOTHING to do with where the school he plays for is located.
That said, then why not locate yourself in one of the most beautiful places on the face of the planet. Plenty of people dream of visiting Alaska for a few weeks at some point in their life. The chance to spend 4 years here and experience The Greatland up close and personal is a great opportunity. Every outdoor experience here surpasses exponentially those experiences in Northwestern Minnesota or Marquette, Michigan. Sure ... those places have some nice things. But let us not fool ourselves for even a second by pretending they compare to Alaska. They don't.
Spending 4 years here in your early 20's might just be the best experience of your life. No doubt when you're spending your 30's and 40's in Missouri or your 50's in Indiana or your 60's in Nevada that you'll fondly remember the four years when you got to experience one of the truly great wildernesses left in the world. Not choosing to come to UAA versus Northern Michigan or Beminiji just displays a lack of adventure in your character. Ultimately you may not regret not coming here. Nevertheless, realize it or not, your character will be the lessor for not doing so.
There is a spirit imbued in the character of people who spend time in this state that you don't get from being anywhere in the lower 48. It's just that simple. This place is great. Other places aren't as great. What you catch in Lake Beminiji, we use for bait. When you look out your window in Marquette, you see a hill. When you look out your window in Anchorage you see mountains. A major wildlife encounter in Beminiji is when a skunk takes up residence in the neighbors backyard. Last year in Anchorage, 5 people were attacked by Grizzly Bears within a couple of mile radius of UAA. A moose in your driveway is a regular occurrence. One stomped an old guy to death years ago outside the UAA sports center entrance. If that sort of thing tends to chase you away ... fine. We don't want pussies here.
Plus the school here is entirely and completely unpretentious. It's an underfunded state school that provides you with a degree if you just make nominal efforts. The campus facilities aren't like UND or Minnesota or Wisconsin ... but they're every bit the equal of Beminiji or NMU. Within a couple of years the entire existing practice facility for all UAA sports will be focused on hockey. The other practice facilities are moving across the street and the existing one will become more hockey focused. A fancy on-campus rink will happen one day. That doesn't appear to be close but the enhanced campus practice facilities are close and will exceed the room and equipment that most D1 schools have.
If you're xenophobic and want to ensure you only see white people. Go to Beminiji. If you want to get to know a diverse set of people with a worldwide racial basis then come here. UAA and the community of Anchorage is one of the most diverse regions in America. Experiences with a wide range of peoples is a character enhancing thing.
Anchorage, Alaska is a place that beckons hearty stout souls with a desire for adventure who wish to challenge themselves and increase the breadth of their human existence. If you're not such a person. Go to some bland fucking shithole like Marquette or Beminiji. You'd stink up the Sullivan Arena ice anyway, which by the way ... would have been the highest quality sheet you ever stepped on.
And lastly, if Coach Shyiak recruited you here ... you'll get more than ample opportunities to prove yourself during your freshman year. It's a clearly established philosophy of his.
And oh yeah ... here's a Russian chick that lives here: