Alaska Nanooks’ head hockey coach Tavis MacMillan announced in a press conference Thursday that he is stepping down from his post for family reasons.
“We have been presented an opportunity as a family that I am excited about; however, I am not at liberty to discuss just yet,” said MacMillan. “This decision was made with my family’s quality of life in mind. It was not an easy decision and it was not one I made on my own. It was made with nothing but my family’s best interest to guide me.”
MacMillan’s association with the University of Alaska Fairbanks has spanned 15 years, including the last three as the Nanooks’ head coach. He had signed a four-year contract extension in the fall and was just honored by UAF for 10 years of service.
“My family and I are very grateful to the University for the opportunities it has provided to us and the community,” MacMillan said. “My adult life has known nothing else but Nanook hockey and I only hope I’ve given back a small percent of what I’ve received from this university.”
Forrest Karr, UAF’s Director of Athletics, praised MacMillan and the impact he made in his time with the university.
“Tavis is a good man, a good father and a good friend,” he said. “Perhaps most importantly, every decision he made during 15 years of service to the university as a student-athlete, administrator and coach, was made with the program’s best long-term interests in mind. He recruited high-quality young men, held them accountable and helped shape them into community leaders.”
In three seasons with the Nanooks, MacMillan guided the program to three first round road playoff series upsets, the most in the CCHA ever, and a total of nine postseason victories, a feat only equaled by the league’s sole 2007 Frozen Four participant Michigan State. However, the Nanooks’ wins are unique in that all nine were upsets over higher-ranked teams that occurred on the road. He compiled a 46-54-15 overall record and 29-43-12 in the CCHA.
The 36-year-old Milk River, Alberta native and UAF graduate took over the head coaching reins at the end of the 2003-04 season, succeeding Guy Gadowsky as the sixth head coach in program history. Prior to that MacMillan served as NCAA compliance coordinator for UAF’s athletics department and as assistant coach to Gadowsky for four seasons and Dave Laurion for three seasons.
After being named head coach in the spring of 2004, MacMillan hired on two former teammates, Wade Klippenstein and Dallas Ferguson. The Nanooks’ all-alumni coaching staff was a first in program history.
“I have been fortunate enough to work with great people,” said MacMillan. “Especially my current staff, who are my best friends, and the support staff I have had the pleasure to work with. Most importantly, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work with outstanding young men.”
During his first two seasons, his teams successfully captured the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup, by defeating intrastate rivals, the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in the annual four-game series. In his first season, he led Alaska to the CCHA Super Six Tournament at Joe Louis Arena where they set a program record for post-season finish after defeating Michigan State 3-2 in the third-place game. The Nanooks were 11-22-6 this season, finishing strong in the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Prior to the press conference, MacMillan met with his players to share the news with them. MacMillan said his future hockey plans were undecided at this point but made it clear that his passion for the sport has not faded.
“I have no plans of getting out of hockey,” he said. “I love hockey and the sport and I’d like to get involved in other opportunities with hockey that are not just limited to coaching.”
MacMillan said it shouldn’t be difficult to find a solid replacement based on the program’s growth in recent years.
“The program is in great shape,” he said. “I have nothing but confidence in the program, not only as the outgoing coach but as an alumnus, that the program will be able to attract great candidates for the vacant coaching position.”
While no search for a successor has begun, Karr indicated the process will promptly take shape.
“We can’t replace Tavis, but we will find a qualified person with the passion and ability to coach at this level. There will be a search committee in place by the end of the day tomorrow and a national search will begin immediately.”