Josh Sciba has a monumental task in front of him taking over the Union College women’s hockey team. He said he’s ready for that challenge because he’s already helped build a program that went from struggling to having its best season ever.
But there’s struggling, then there’s Union.
Sciba, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Colgate University women’s hockey team and has head-coaching experience, was named the new head coach Friday of the Dutchwomen, winless in their last NCAA-record 51 games. He signed a five-year deal. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
“It’s been my goal throughout my entire career to be a head coach,” Sciba said in an interview. “I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity. I know when this job came up, it was something that I wanted to pursue. It was something that, after going through the process, I knew it was a great place. I’m so thankful to be the leader of this program.”
The 31-year-old Sciba replaces Claudia Asano Barcomb, who stepped down as head coach April 15 after eight 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. Asano Barcomb had a year remaining on her contract.
The Dutchwomen finished 2015-16 with a record of 0-28-6, becoming the first Division I women’s hockey team ever to have a winless season. (The last time a men’s team went winless was Alaska-Fairbanks in 1980-81). Union also holds the Division I hockey record for most consecutive games without a win at 51. Its last victory was in December 2014.
In the 13 years that Dutchwomen have been a Division I program, they have never had a winning season.
“To me, it’s going to be a process,” said Sciba, who played 141 career games for Notre Dame from 2003-07. “It’s going to be a process that we’re going to take day-by-day and approach it as trying to get better every single day. For me, it’s going to be me surrounding myself with the best people possible and making sure that my staff is in order, and then just trying to focus on the culture of our program — creating an environment for our players that makes hockey a priority and making it fun to come to the rink.
“We want kids to come to the rink and do the extra stuff and extra skills, watch videos and put themselves in a place where they feel they’re getting better every day and having fun. Hopefully, we’re seeing results as time comes along. If we can create that kind of environment and inject some new life into the program, in terms of our short-term goals, we’ll probably see some better long-term gains.”
Colgate coach Greg Fargo believes Sciba is the right person for the Union job.
In their four years together at Colgate, the Raiders had their best season ever in 2015-16, finishing fourth in the ECACH with a 12-5-5 record and hosting a league tournament quarterfinal series for the first time. Colgate ousted Harvard in three games before losing to Clarkson in the semifinals. Colgate’s overall record was 22-9-7, the most wins ever, and it was ranked eighth in the final USCHO.com/NCAA hockey top 10 poll. It was Colgate’s first winning season since 2008-09.
“To go to a school that has some similarities to Colgate, it’s a good fit for him,” Fargo said. “He’s poised to do well there. Overall, I’m proud of him. He’s earned this opportunity. I know he’ll do great things there.”
Sciba was one of four finalists for the job. Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin declined to name the other candidates, but he is happy with the choice of Sciba, and is confident that he will improve the fortunes of the Dutchwomen.
“He’ll be an incredible recruiter for us, which is going to have to be a strength, to say the least,” McLaughlin said. “The main focus has to be recruiting and establishing a culture and environment that’s going to allow us to succeed. I know he’s played a big part of that, along with his head coach at Colgate creating that culture.”
Before going to Colgate, Sciba spent four seasons with the Niagara women’s hockey team. After three years as an assistant coach, Sciba took over as head coach in 2011-12. The Purple Eagles went 10-16-8. The program was dropped after the season.
The fates of assistant coaches Ali Boe and Chris Cobb will be decided after Sciba meets with them some time in the next couple of weeks. Boe has been with Union since Asano Barcomb became head coach. Cobb just finished his first season with Union.
“I’m going to have a conversation with both of them,” Sciba said. “Just speaking in terms of what I’d like to have in terms of assistant coaches, I want workers. I want people that are going to be committed to our program and see my vision and believe in what we’re doing. I want someone that’s going to hit the road and going to be a road warrior in terms of recruiting. I want a female coach that’s going to be able to connect with the kids and be able to recruit and do the skills on the ice.”