In the years after his stellar playing career, Matt Shasby enjoyed the morning commute to Anchorage’s Northern Lights ABC for his job as a middle school Social Studies teacher.
These days, he still makes the trip with young daughter Taves in tow, and with a welcome twist.
“I’m dropping off my kindergartner at the same school I was at for 12 years,” Shasby said. “But then the drive continues, up UAA Drive, to the rink I’ve been going to since I was 7-years old.”
Shasby’s routine now concludes at the Seawolf Sports Complex, home of his new office. He was named UAA’s head hockey coach in late October.
The Chugiak High graduate, former Seawolves defenseman and Alaska Aces Hall of Famer is technically the seventh bench boss in the program’s 40-plus year history. But given all that’s transpired in the last 18 months, Shasby believes he’s now responsible for bringing a new entity to the Anchorage community.
“Knowledgeable hockey people realize some difficulties the program will face early,” Shasby said in a Jan. 14 phone interview. “But for the most part, you don’t even talk about that kind of stuff. We’re back. Everything is nothing but positive and nothing but opportunity, and that’s what we’ve portrayed to these kids we’ve been talking to.
“We started to highlight what we do have to offer. Whether it’s the biggest myth or hidden secret, I do believe we’re going to offer a college experience that’s good or better than anywhere.”
To briefly recap, the university’s Board of Regents eliminated the NCAA Division I hockey, gymnastics and skiing programs in Sept. 2020. All three sports were officially reinstated less than a year later thanks to grass-roots, big-money fundraising efforts that should forever be lauded as nothing short of miraculous.
So here we are in early 2022. Shasby named Kevin Murdock as assistant coach near the end of last year and just last week welcomed longtime Fairbanks Ice Dogs’ (NAHL Junior A) coach Trevor Stewart as associate head coach. Thus far, eleven players have officially signed or verbally committed to be part of Seawolves Hockey 2.0 and more are expected in the coming weeks and months. Shasby said he’s eagerly awaiting to see who comes through the NCAA transfer portal later this spring.
While nothing’s been properly announced, look for UAA to potentially debut – again – at Colorado College in October.
“What we’re doing is extremely similar to the situation Brush Christiansen was in (back in the late 1970s),” Shasby said. “You’re a brand-new team coming in as an independent and you have to build from scratch.
“We’re going to have to find a long-term facility, work on building independent schedules and keep convincing kids to come to Alaska. It’s the exact same thing Brush did is exactly what we’re recreating, that path. It took him however many years to get into a league and it’s fair to think we’re on the same kind of timeline.”
Shasby spent hours last week with engineers tasked with either remodeling the Seawolf Sports Complex or constructing a new stand-alone, hockey-only arena on campus.
“I told them I need it done by October 2023,” Shasby said.
The coach said having former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell working now as UAA’s Chancellor has dramatically changed the arena outlook.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Shasby said. “The Chancellor is now in place who understands the importance, and the facility is the only thing we don’t have.”
Of all the hurdles Shasby and the new Seawolves need to clear now and in the future, community skepticism may be the most daunting. Remember, this is a town full of residents who remain fixated on talks of a packed Sullivan Arena in the early 1990s. People couldn’t handle UAA’s on-ice struggles against college hockey’s elite of the last few decades and stopped attending games.
The same thing more or less happened with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces – Shasby was a vital part of the franchise’s 2006 Kelly Cup championship. While financial viability played a large part in the team’s downfall, so did community apathy.
“In today’s modern world, things only hang around for so long,” Shasby said. “What’s a headline today is not a headline tomorrow. The majority of our town doesn’t remember the glory days of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, or the glory days of the Aces.
“My focus is on building a new fan base, the new wave of Seawolves hockey. I’m approaching it as if the town has never had college hockey before. We’re introducing a new product, a new sport.”
Shasby takes full ownership of the idea this will be Anchorage’s first go with college hockey.
“In a way, none of what came before really happened,” he said. “For the program to be sustainable long term, it’s 3- to 12-year olds and those families that are our target (audience). I don’t care about Johnny Longtooth ‘I was here when we played the (Minnesota) Golden Gophers (in the WCHA playoffs).’ That’s great, I’m glad you have those memories.
“But for us to be around the next 20 years, that’s the most irrelevant thing you can tell me right now. What I need is 3,000 brand-new college hockey fans.”