Kenai Peninsula hockey fans who fancy themselves supporters of both the Kenai River Brown Bears and University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves got a double dose of good news this week.
Trevor Stewart resigned as head coach of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs to become associate head coach with the Seawolves.
The news is positive for Brown Bears fans because, since becoming Ice Dogs head coach for the 2011-12 season, Stewart has been one of Kenai River’s greatest tormentors.
The Bears went 37-100-4-3 against Stewart, including losing three playoff series. The 3-2 losses in the 2013 and 2014 playoffs were about as heartbreaking as they come.
“The Ice Dogs and the Fairbanks community have been a major part of my family for the last decade, and it will truly be different to be elsewhere,” Stewart said in a statement released by the Ice Dogs. “We love Alaska and have come to call it home, but when this opportunity came along, it seemed like the appropriate time to go.”
Even with Stewart gone, the Ice Dogs, under general manager Rob Proffitt, aren’t likely to slide. The Bears face the Ice Dogs in Fairbanks in North American Hockey League action today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Proffitt was head coach and general manager when the Ice Dogs began in 1997. He stepped aside as head coach after the 2007-08 season (the Bears went 1-11-0-0 against him), but has created such a stable environment that new coach Dave Allison will be just the fourth in the team’s history.
Including interim head coaches, the Bears have had 11 bench bosses since the team was created for the 2007-08 season. Stewart has faced off against seven of them — Oliver David, Geoff Beauparlant, Jeff Worlton, Josh Petrich, Dan Bogdan, Kevin Murdock and Josh Dubinsky. Stewart narrowly missed facing an eighth — current interim head coach Taylor Shaw.
Stewart also has coached in more games involving the Bears than anyone except for David and Beauparlant.
The Ice Dogs have won three Robertson Cups, with Stewart leading two of those efforts. Stewart won 412 regular season games for the Ice Dogs and 52 postseason contests.
He also led the Ice Dogs to the Robertson Cup championship game in 2019, and to the semifinals in 2012 and 2018. He was named the NAHL Coach of the Year in 2013-14 and 2017-18.
“I wish Coach Stewart nothing but the best as he moves into the next phase of his coaching career,” Proffitt said in a released statement. “The mark he leaves on this program in unmeasurable.
“Coach Stewart’s dedication and positive impact on his players, both on and off the ice, is second to none, and I cannot thank him enough for that. Above all, I consider Trevor and his family friends for life, and I will miss them tremendously.”
The Ice Dogs’ loss is the Seawolves’ gain.
“Today is a big day for Seawolf hockey,” UAA head coach Matt Shasby said in a released statement. “We are completing our coaching staff with one of the most respected coaches in junior hockey.
“Trevor Stewart has all the qualities of a college coach that I was looking for to round out our staff. He is well connected, an elite evaluator of talent, and really understands how to construct a winning hockey program. He also has a strong resume as a head coach that allows him to execute all tasks related to hockey operations. Lastly and most importantly he will be an incredible mentor to our student-athletes, which will allow them to be successful in the classroom and in life beyond their time at UAA.”
Shasby’s son, Camden, is a defenseman for the Ice Dogs this season. He has four goals and 16 assists in 33 games. The Ice Dogs announced this week that Shasby, 17, has committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for Western Michigan University.
The UAA hockey program was eliminated by the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents in 2020. The Seawolves didn’t play in the 2020-21 season and are not playing this season.
Previous head coach Matt Curley stepped down in June 2021 and all of the previous players from the program are gone.
However, a $3 million fundraising effort saved the program and gave it some momentum — momentum Shasby said he is looking to capitalize on when he was named head coach Oct. 20.
Shasby will rely heavily on the coaching products of Alaska’s NAHL teams to create a winner at UAA.
Stewart will join a staff that already includes Kevin Murdock, who coached the Bears in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Murdock finished 47-40-4-4 for Kenai River, the best winning percentage a Bears coach has had.
Murdock was named assistant coach in early December. He went 4-5-1 against Stewart in the Bears-Ice Dogs rivalry.
“I am extremely excited to be a part of Anchorage, UAA and the Seawolf hockey communities,” Stewart said in a statement released by the school. “I would like to thank Coach Shasby and the athletic department for extending this opportunity.
“Most importantly, I would like to thank the alumni, administration, donors, and fans of Seawolf hockey for restoring a program with strong traditions that can be built upon. I look forward to working with everyone involved and helping to establish a first-class college hockey program.”