Dutchwomen hockey coach out to change culture

Josh Sciba didn’t go full Shakespeare in noting Thursday that other coaches of “good and virtuous na
New Union College women's hockey coach Josh Sciba, left, shares a laugh with athletic director Jim McLaughlin prior to Sciba's introductory news conference on Thursday at the Nott Memorial on campus. (Ryan Zidek/For The Daily Gazette)
New Union College women's hockey coach Josh Sciba, left, shares a laugh with athletic director Jim McLaughlin prior to Sciba's introductory news conference on Thursday at the Nott Memorial on campus. (Ryan Zidek/For The Daily Gazette)

Categories: College Sports, News

Josh Sciba didn’t go full Shakespeare in noting Thursday that other coaches of “good and virtuous nature may recoil” from taking on the Union women’s hockey head coaching job, but . . .

Actually, he practically did.

“When I looked at this job from the outside, some of the candidates might have been insecure,” he said at an introductory news conference at the Nott Memorial on campus. “Here is a team with zero wins. Some kids are transferring, Some kids are leaving.

“For me, I just saw an opportunity.”

Sciba, 31, is not only taking over a bad team, but a historically bad one — winless in an NCAA-record 51 straight games dating to December 2014. But with players, men’s hockey coach Rick Bennett and a fellow newcomer, football coach Jeff Behrman — also taking over a program winless last season — looking on, Sciba proceeded to sell something the Dutchwomen and their fans have not had in quite some time:

Hope.

Sciba, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Colgate University women’s hockey team and has head-coaching experience, said the obligatory line all coaches do when taking over a habitually losing program: “It will be a process.” He said two of the linchpins will be putting together a staff that will work as hard as him, and hitting the recruiting trail hard.

But he added a wrinkle. The other component of his three-pronged plan may be the trickiest — and also the most important:

“We want to change the culture of our program,” he said. “We want to create an environment that is fun.”

Sciba said the hiring process proved transparent, and that it became clear to him that one of the team’s problems was playing for it proved to be onerous, with led to losing, which led to a worse experience, and so on.

He replaces Claudia Asano Barcomb, who stepped down as head coach April 15 after nine seasons that saw her amass a record of 36-236-32 overall. Her .171 winning percentage is the lowest ever among NCAA coaches with that many games behind the bench.

Her teams were 9-169-20 in ECAC Hockey, and never finished higher than 11th place. The Dutchwomen never won more than nine games in a season.

Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said Sciba emerged from “a real extensive interview process. We focused on a lot more than hockey. We focused on the role as a teacher, a mentor, an educator.”

He said Sciba surfaced as a standout candidate because of his “great passion, enthusiasm, incredible work ethic and a sense of priorities.”

The former Notre Dame player said that the losing — culminating in an 0-28-6 season in 2015-16 — “misaligned the priorities of the players.” He said making the team fun will compel players to want to study film, want to hit the weights, want to be on the ice — which will translate into wins.

This past year Union was the first Division I women’s hockey team to go winless in a season. In the 13 years that the Dutchwomen have been a Division I program, they have never had a winning season.

“With zero wins, it’s challenging,” he said. “It needs a lot of work.”

Captain Ally Devins said the team is looking to Sciba to lead a turnaround.

“Everyone is excited. Everyone is very excited, ready for a change and to get on the ice,” she said.

The forward said the team got worn down by the losing toward the end.

“I think we gave up on each other,” she said. “We need to bring that energy back, that passion back — and have some hope.”

That is what the coach said he is offering.

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