The University of Alaska Anchorage has a new head coach—someone who will be moving just up the West Coast and is no stranger to the college ranks.
The Seawolves have hired former Rochester Institute of Technology center Matt Thomas, who spent the last 12 seasons in professional hockey, most recently as head coach of the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. The Thunder, an affiliate of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, were the ECHL’s Western Conference champions this season before falling to the Reading Royals in the Kelly Cup Final.
UAA vice chancellor Dr. Bill Spindle had this to say at Thomas' introductory press conference (via GoSeawolves.com):
We're very excited that Matt Thomas will be joining Seawolf Athletics as our new head hockey coach, Matt's extensive experience as a head coach, coupled with his incredible enthusiasm for rolling up his sleeves and facing UAA's program challenges head-on, make him the right choice to lead the Seawolves as we head into a new league and a new season this fall.
Thomas replaces Dave Shyiak, who was released in April after eight seasons at the helm of the Seawolves.
UAA's new coach paid tribute to the state of Alaska at the press conference to announce his hiring:
I have always admired the sense of community and pride that is associated with Anchorage and the entire state of Alaska and our entire family is excited about the move. It truly is a "hockey state." My goal is to bring back the passion for UAA hockey and produce a winner for the community, alumni and our fan base.
The UAA program was founded back in 1979, and has had just four head coaches prior to Thomas' hiring.
The Mississauga, Ontario native went 163-127-39 (.555) in 329 games over five seasons with the Thunder, and also posted a 34-30 postseason record in that span, according to the team's website. All-time, Thomas fashioned a 342-225-80 mark (.590) in 647 career ECHL regular-season games as head coach of the Thunder, Fresno Falcons and Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies. He ranks fifth all-time in the ECHL for regular-season victories, and is sixth in total games coached.
A former assistant coach at the University of Maine from 2000 to 2002, Thomas played at RIT from 1994 to 1998. He helped the Tigers to three NCAA Division III tournament berths, including a national runner-up finish his sophomore season. He also helped coach them to the NCAAs as an assistant in 1999.
Was Matt Thomas a good hire for the Seawolves?
The Seawolves last posted a winning season in 1992-93, their first as an affiliate member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The 1990-91 team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinal round, losing to Northern Michigan after beating Boston College, while the 1991-92 squad finished a program-best 27-8-1 (.764) but fell to Lake Superior State in the first round of the NCAAs.
UAA will start play this fall in a revamped WCHA that also includes Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska Fairbanks, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan.
Current NHL players who skated at UAA in their careers include Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals and Curtis Glencross of the Calgary Flames. Mike Peluso was the first former Seawolf to win a Stanley Cup, going all the way with the New Jersey Devils in 1995.