By Randy Russon
If Joe Shawhan would have known a year ago what he knows now he would likely be comfortably employed as an assistant coach with the Northern Michigan University Wildcats of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
Instead, as was first reported in this space in the April 9 edition of this paper, the affable Shawhan is looking for employment after being told that he won't be returning to the Lake Superior State University Lakers as an assistant coach after his contract expires on June 30.
Shawhan just completed his third season as a Laker assistant under head coach Jim Roque. But in what ranks as a surprising move, Roque recently informed Shawhan that he doesn't want him back for the '08-09 season.
Curiously, when Roque first hired Shawhan to a one-year contract three years ago, he made no secret of the fact that he got the man he wanted. Shawhan had been set to accept a position as coach and general manager of the Cleveland Barons of the North American Hockey League when Roque tracked him down and offered him an assistant's position with the Lakers.
For Shawhan, the offer from Roque was an opportunity to remain in his hometown, where he'd been successfully coaching and managing the NAHL's Soo Kewadin Casino Indians for 10 years before the franchise folded.
At any rate, after turning down Cleveland to take the LSSU job three years ago, Shawhan then passed on an opportunity to leave his alma mater a year ago, signing another one-year contract to remain as an assistant under Roque. Shawhan was actively recruited by Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle a year ago to join his coaching staff but turned down the opportunity when Roque asked him to stay on at LSSU for a third one-year contract.
In hindsight, Shawhan today must be asking himself why he bothered remaining true to his school after being told by Roque that he wouldn't be returning to LSSU for a fourth season.
A Michigan Soo native, Shawhan has a long history with the school. He was a standout goalie in the CCHA while playing for the Lakers from 1982-87. And from 1988-95, he served a variety of roles with the Lakers, from radio analyst to volunteer coach.
Meantime, from his Northern Michigan University office in Marquette, Kyle, a former National Hockey League coach with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, said he feels bad for Shawhan.
"When we had an opening for an assistant coach a year ago, I recruited Joe heavily to apply for the job," said Kyle. "He was my target, absolutely. I wanted him in the worst way. I was very aware of Joe's coaching qualifications and his academic background. I had done my homework on him."
But Kyle said the opportunity to formally bring Shawhan aboard in Northern Michigan "never got that far. Joe told me after talking it over with Jim Roque that he wanted to stay at LSSU. He'd been a Laker and he wanted to remain a Laker."
"Joe had always impressed me with his integrity in the manner in which he operates," Kyle continued. "After he declined the opportunity to join our coaching staff here at Northern Michigan, he impressed me even more with his loyalty to the Laker program. Personally, I think it's just terrible that Joe has now been let go by Jim after all the loyalty that Joe showed Jim and the Lakers. If Jim didn't want Joe, he had the perfect opportunity to let him go last season when we were interested in him."
Meantime, Roque, when asked why he chose not to renew Shawhan's contract, deferred the matter to a press release sent out by LSSU in which he rather-evasively noted: "I wish (Shawhan) well in his future endeavours and know he will be successful in whatever path he chooses."
Caught in the middle of Roque's decision to release Shawhan is LSSU athletic director Kris Dunbar. Dunbar, an outstanding former women's basketball coach at LSSU, was promoted to athletic director after both Roque and Shawhan were brought on board by since-reassigned former AD Bill Crawford three years ago.
As for Shawhan, the married father of three children said he will now explore coaching opportunities within the college and junior hockey circles. A wildly-successful coach well before he returned to LSSU three years ago, Shawhan had a stellar 10-year run as bench boss of the NAHL's Kewadin Casino Indians from 1996-2005 before the team folded. Shawhan became the winningest coach in the 30-year history of the NAHL, compiling an astounding overall wins/losses/ties record of 474-162-43 that included three league championships and three trips to the USA National Tournament.