“For the first time in Seawolf history, an alumnus will lead the program.”
Taken straight from the 2001-02 University of Alaska Anchorage hockey media guide, the statement gets such a high placement for a reason: after the loss of program founder Brush Christiansen and four-year career of Dean Talafous, the program needed a familiar face to guide them through some all-too familiar circumstances.
John Hill, a Seawolf from 1979 to 1984, and a Western Collegiate Hockey Association assistant coach for 11 years with UAA, Colorado College and the University of Minnesota, comes to the Seawolves with league experience and a plan. “It's simple…,” Hill says. “We want to pressure the puck defensively and use possession offense to play a tenacious and relentless brand of hockey.”
After four years of Talafous' dump and chase, the skaters are ready for a change and think that Hill may be the man to guide them.
“He's positive and upbeat on the ice,” UAA Co-captain Mike Scott says. “It was a struggle last year, but coach is really different. From his workouts and style we knew we'd have a different attitude.” Coach Hill speaks highly of his players as well, but says the main thing isn't what he can teach them on the ice, but how they prepare for the games.
“What I'm trying to do is provide our guys with all avenues to be successful,” Hill says. “We've got a strength and conditioning coach now and I'm building a coaching staff to compete with other teams in the league to level the playing field.”
Hill's UAA career included being named Most Inspirational Player twice (1981-`82, `83-'84), a career scoring line of 60-61-121 and team captain his senior season.
“Players see John and all of his experience, which made him a good fit when the time came,” UAA athletic director Steve Cobb, Ed. D., says. Cobb believes that it takes three to four years for a program to develop and the highly intense play of the Seawolves against Boston College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks were good signs of things to come under Hill.
Coach thinks so as well.
“They have a great work ethic,” he says. “I feel bad for them and what they went through (last season). It means an awful lot to me to lead this team back to respectability.” Respectability will only come with continued improvement and wins, something Hill is aware of.
“Improvement is necessary. So is turning this program around,” he says. “I owe everything to this university. The best years of my life were spent here and it's where I earned my education.”
Well coach, if your desire and intensity are any barometer of your future here at UAA, then all hockey fans and alumni can hope is for that to translate to your players.
This has all the makings of a local-boy-done-good story, but with the early struggles of this year's Seawolves, maybe it'll take three to four years to rebuild, but don't bet against John Hill.
“Guys are hungry here,” he says. “we're playing catch-up but I think we've got the work ethic to do it.”