ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Brett Larson was looking for an experienced coach to add to his staff. Dave Shyiak looked at the economic situation where he was and decided he wanted a new challenge.
Shyiak, 53, was officially named associate head coach for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team on Saturday, May 23. He replaces Mike Gibbons, who retired after his 13th season with the Huskies, and will essentially have the same job duties he's had on the staff for Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray since 2014.
Shyiak will work with the defensemen and take a big role in recruiting for Huskies head coach Brett Larson, who recently completed his second season as head coach.
"I've known Brett a long time and I've always respected what he's done as a coach along his stops," Shyiak said of Larson, a former assistant coach at Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State. "He's worked hard, had success, is a good person and his teams were always competitive.
"We've kept a pretty good relationship and I really wasn't pursuing anything. It was a good position here, but times are changing a little bit at Western (Michigan), to be honest with you. Brett reached out to coach Murray, expressed an interest in me and we talked and I needed to digest. The more people I talked to, the more excited I got about the opportunity.
"It's a great hockey program. They're competitive. They get to the NCAA (tournament regularly). Great people and hockey is real visible around the community and it's supported in the athletic department with great resources. It's an opportunity for me to go in with the staff, be able to mesh with those guys and build on the foundation of what's already been built."
Earlier this month, Western Michigan announced a 20 percent budget reduction in its athletic department (more than $6 million).
"Everybody knows that, not just Western, but the whole state of Michigan has taken a big hit financially," said Shyiak, who has a wife and three children. "Western hasn't escaped from that and it does affect how we live as a family. That did factor into some of the decision making we had to look at."
Taking time to pick
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Larson had a lot of time to look through a lot of candidates for the position. Gibbons announced his retirement on March 19 and with recruiting restrictions put on all schools by the NCAA, St. Cloud State extended its deadline for the hire to the end of May.
Larson selected Shyiak, who has been a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs (2013-14), a head coach at Alaska-Anchorage (2005-13) and as an assistant coach and associate head coach at Northern Michigan (1995-2005) and a head coach in junior hockey for the Merritt Centennials (British Columbia Hockey League, 1994-95) and Kimberley Dynamiters (Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, 1993-94).
"I think with a young staff — me being only two years in and (assistant coach Nick Oliver) only being two years in — you get a guy who has been a head coach at this level for eight years, a guy who has been an associate head coach at one of the top programs in the country and done a great job recruiting there," Larson said. "We got lucky.
"I've probably known him 15 years and I've just always been really, really impressed by him. You can tell that he's a competitor, passionate about what he does and he's good at what he does. I told him that the reason that we were going after him was I thought he could help our staff keep growing with all the experience that he has."
In his last four seasons at Western Michigan, the Broncos averaged 19 wins, took third in the NCHC twice (2016-17, 2018-19), fourth once (2019-20) and reached the NCAA tournament in 2017. Shyiak leaves the staff of Murray, who ran hockey camps that he attended as a young player.
"I've known him since I've been 10 years old because we're from, basically, the same hometown," said Shyiak, who grew up in Brandon, Manitoba. "I used to go to his hockey schools as a kid.
"Six years in one place is almost considered a long career in coaching now. I learned a lot from (Murray) and he's got a pro background, but there's also things that I shared because I've been coaching at this level for 25-plus years. I thought it was a great working relationship.
"You remain friends. But when you first get into college coaching, you think you're going to be in one place for 15-20 years. That's the way it used to be. I think (former Michigan State coach) Rick Comley told me that if you get to 6-7 years with the same people, same staff, sometimes you need to test yourself a little bit and move on and learn more."
Telling the family
Shyiak played forward for Northern Michigan from 1987-91. That is where he met his wife, Lucia, who played volleyball for the Wildcats. The couple has three children, who are all athletes. Shyiak said his sons Kristian (16) and Sheldon (15) both play hockey and participate in track and field and cross country and his daughter, Isabela (12), is a diver and a volleyball player.
What was it like telling his kids that they were going to be moving to another state?
"(Kristian) is going to be a junior in high school and he was excited, Isabela was excited and my middle (son) — after he got over the nitial shock because we talked about him having a chance to play AAA hockey here — but after I told him that Minnesota high school hockey is better than travel hockey here and I showed him some videos of high school hockey in Minnesota, he was blown away," Shyiak said. "He got over it, got excited. They're excited about the potential opportunity there."
Interestingly, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan were supposed to play one another in a best-of-three series to open the NCHC tournament this year before the postseason got cancelled because of the pandemic. St. Cloud State and Western Michigan play two series against one another in 2020-21 and Shyiak said it will be interesting to hear what the Western Michigan fans have for him when he returns to Lawson Arena Feb. 26-27 in Kalamazoo, Mich.
"It'll be interesting because, not too often in your coaching career do you go up against a whole team that you know," Shyiak said. "It'll be a different feeling, for sure, being on the other bench hearing the Lawson Lunatics. I'm sure they will have some crazy cheers."