Foreign or not, hockey coach should stay

UAA Athletic Director Steve Cobb announced Jan. 26 that the search for a men’s hockey coach has concluded. This might come as a surprise to many, considering the Seawolves already have a hockey coach in Dave Shyiak, who has served since June 2005.

He’s the same coach who last season produced 10 student-athletes on the WCHA all-academic team, and this season has lead the Division I Seawolves to a Nye Frontier Classic win and victories over national powers Wisconsin and Colorado College, while also recapturing the Governor’s Cup from rival UAF. Not too shabby.

So what’s all the fuss about? Shyiak is Canadian. A Canadian who, at the moment, is applying for a green card. In order to get his card, Shyiak needs a permanent labor certification. He is now employed on a temporary work permit, which lasts three years and can be renewed only once. Once his six years are up, Shyiak will need to leave the country for a year. Probably not the best situation for the Seawolves, eh?

So, in order for Shyiak to get the permanent labor certification, the Department of Labor must determine that “there are no U.S workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to accept the job.”

To comply with the law, UAA had to accept applications for the head coach spot for thirty days, a window that closed Jan. 21.

Shyiak and five others applied for the job, but the university decided Shyiak was the only coach it needed. That alone should be good enough for the Department of Labor.

Before becoming the head coach at UAA, Shyiak spent 10 seasons as an assistant at Northern Michigan, the last three of which were spent as the head assistant coach. While there, Northern Michigan had seven 20-win seasons and qualified for the NCAA tournament once. This came after his playing career there, where he was a co-captain on the 1991 NCAA National Championship Team.

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To put the icing on the already sweet cake, Shyiak was also one of two finalists for the head coaching position at UAA in 2001 when the university hired John Hill. So far this season, his Seawolves have been competitive in almost every game, something that unfortunately cannot be said of past teams.

It is quite clear that Coach Shyiak is the best man for the job. His players are playing hard and having success both on the ice and in the classroom. There is nothing more you can ask of a coach and his student-athletes than that.

Despite that, his citizenship remains a key obstacle. When it comes to non-citizens being hired, the legal standard is not only that they hire the most qualified person, but that they hire an American as long as a qualified American applies.

The university, as it should, has high standards and demands of those who wish to be the head hockey coach. The hockey coach must be an expert on the game, the rules and the theories of coaching, and he must be able to motivate and assess ability of student-athletes in the classroom and on the ice.

But a different issue may be at stake. If the Department of Labor decides that to be a “qualified” hockey coach one must only have a degree and know that the objective of the game is to put the puck in the net, then it is possible we may have to hire someone else. But it should be a matter of quality. There is a reason companies and organizations have searches and interview processes when filling vacancies. A lot of people can meet the bare minimum requirements, but the objective is not to meet the minimum. The objective is to hire the best person. For the position of UAA hockey coach, Dave Shyiak is that person.

Some people have criticized the university for making it clear that it did not want anyone else to apply for the job, or for only abiding by the basic minimum requirements.

Rather, UAA should be applauded for tackling this issue head-on as quickly as possible by not trying to run around the law or find loopholes to jump through. Secondly, people who hire the right person for the job in the first place probably do not want to search for a replacement a few years later. A team that wins the Super Bowl or the World Series does not go into the off-season thinking, “Hey, let’s find another coach.”

We agree wholeheartedly with Cobb, who said Shyiak’s “performance and contributions to the improving success of UAA’s hockey program and its student-athletes have been outstanding.”

Hopefully, the government will make the logical and correct decision by not denying the university his services.