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Player Denies Abuse by Coach

Anchorage, Alaska (ap) — A former Alaska Anchorage hockey player acknowledges he was hit by his former coach with a stick during practice, but he said that it didn’t rise to the level of the abuse allegation being made by a former teammate.

“I am not denying that there was an incident, but I will say in my opinion the story has been greatly exaggerated,” Nick Haddad said yesterday in an email to The Associated Press.

“There was an incident with Coach (Dave) Shyiak and myself where he slashed me across the pants during practice. Obviously it is not acceptable for a coach to do this to one of his players, and there is no excuse for it to have happened. That being said, I don’t believe his intent was to injure me and I think he regretted his actions immediately,” he said.

The incident happened Jan. 11, 2011, during an on-campus practice. A third party reported the hit to UAA officials at the time, and a campus investigator unsuccessfully attempted to contact Haddad. It was eventually dismissed.

But on May 1, one of Haddad’s former teammates, Mickey Spencer, reported the incident in an email to university officials. He described the hit as Shyiak using a “baseball-style” swing across Haddad’s midsection with the hockey stick.

“This was not a typical slash that sometimes occurs in hockey. It was hard and it was violent,” Spencer wrote.

The university has opened a criminal investigation and an internal review of how the 2011 investigation was handled.

In his email to the AP, Haddad said Shyiak did hit him in the front of his pants with a hockey stick. But he said because of how hockey pants are constructed, such a slash won’t hurt.

“The loud noise from his blade slapping the pads made it sound much worse than it actually was. I felt no pain,” he said.

He said he’s not justifying Shyiak’s actions, but other reports of this hit this week were exaggerated.

“We exchanged words with a cluster of my teammates getting in between and separating us, and I was instructed to leave the ice. The next day I spoke with Coach Shyiak and told him he was in the wrong; he agreed with me, acknowledged his wrongdoing, and apologized,” Haddad said. “I accepted his apology, we shook hands, and I honestly haven’t thought about the issue until now.”

Haddad said he never feared Shyiak, whom he described as intense but not violent.

He said he considered the incident closed, and that’s why he never contacted the investigator in 2011.

Haddad said it’s not up to him to decide whether the university or UAA athletic department handled the situation properly.

“As far as the criminal investigation into Shyiak, I feel it is ridiculous and should come to an end immediately,” he said.

“We are heartened that Nick Haddad apparently has shared his perspective. However, the investigation is a police matter and the police will determine its conclusion,” Kristin DeSmith, an assistant vice chancellor, said in an email Wednesday to the AP.

Shyiak was fired by athletic director Steve Cobb in March after eight losing campaigns. The university had named four finalists to replace him, but under pressure from alumni and supporters upset with Cobb, reopened the hiring process. Friday is the deadline for applications.

Shyiak’s attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, has said the former coach is a victim in this process, which he says has been orchestrated by people trying to remove Cobb from his position. Fitzgerald questions the timing of Spencer’s complaint, given he wasn’t the alleged victim, the incident happened two years ago and Shyiak already has been fired.