Former UMC standout Anundson ready for next step as athletic director at Alaska Fairbanks
It's a question Brock Anundson is frequently asked by coaches, graduate assistants and many others who have worked with him over the years: What does the typical path in sports administration look like? Is there one?
Every time Anundson's asked, he answers a little bit differently.
It's unlikely that his answer will stop changing anytime soon. Anundson, whose professional career began 15 years ago, is set to take his next step in July when he'll start his new position as the athletic director at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Anundson, who's currently the assistant athletic director for events and internal operations at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., grew up in Baudette and played college hockey at Minnesota Crookston from 2001 to 2005 after a standout career at Lake of the Woods High School. While he isn't quite coming full circle, his new role does, in many ways, bring him back to to those northern Minnesota roots.
With the Golden Eagles, Anundson was named to the Midwest College Hockey Association All-Conference Team three times and earned conference Player of the Year honors in 2005, scoring 16 goals and 26 assists in 31 games. He helped lead UMC to conference championships in 2003 and 2004 and, with 112 points, is the program's all-time leading scorer to this day.
Originally an information technology major, Anundson switched after his freshman year and ended up earning his degree in sports and recreation management, minoring in coaching. From his sophomore year on, he knew he wanted to go into sports in some way — he just wasn't sure of what capacity.
"I would say 15 to 20 years ago, finishing in Crookston, I hoped to have a successful hockey career," he said. "I think that's where everyone's head is typically at."
With no rock-solid full-time job options lined up after graduation, Anundson signed with the Colorado Eagles, a minor-league team based in Loveland, Colo. that played in the Central Hockey League. At that point, he didn't have a set plan: he just wanted to keep playing as long as he could and maybe use it to jump-start a coaching career.
"I kind of just took the ball and ran with it," he said. "In my head it was going to be, let's give this a shot for a year and see what happens."
It took Anundson less than a year. Midway through the season, he took a job with the NFL's Denver Broncos, where he worked in stadium operations from 2007 to 2011. At the same time, though, he took a job as the head coach of a brand-new high school boys' hockey team, Dakota Ridge H.S. in Littleton, Colo.
"It was a great opportunity to kind of start from scratch," Anundson said. "They had a club base, so they had a good amount of kids. But then it was just all about building a tradition, and that was the most exciting part of it."
In 2011, though, Anundson left the coaching world for good, feeling he had reached a transition point. He and his wife, a former soccer player at UMC, had just gotten married and were starting to form a family.
In addition, his work days were stretching to 12 hours between Dakota Ridge and his new job with the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs. Three to four of those 12 hours were spent commuting alone.
So Anundson, having recently acquired a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, worked for the USOC in operations until late 2012, when he took a job in the athletics department at the University of Denver. Two years later, he returned to the USOC, this time with an increased role as programs coordinator.
All of those stops led to Black Hills State, where he was hired in July 2015. His role at BHSU is, in his words, hard to nail down. "All things and everything," he says. He works with other members of BHSU's administration, coaches and student-athletes, works in finances, gameday operations, hiring and retaining coaches and the like.
"Every day is different," Anundson said. "It's helping foster a positive culture. It's top to bottom what you would think an athletic director does, but it's never ever the same thing. You've got your core duties but at the same time you're building relationships, and you're working with people all across campus every day."
Leaving coaching was bittersweet for Anundson, and if he had the time to spare, he wanted to continue as long as he could. But since switching to the administrative side, he's gained a greater appreciation for being able to work with every single sport and even in the community, and especially doing so in a way that suits his personality.
"I'm not the kind of person that likes to be the face winning championships and doing press conferences," he said. "I enjoy seeing other people succeed from my work and I think that's what an assistant AD and an athletic director does. That's the goal. We build them up behind the scenes."
Anundson's prepared to face his share of challenges at UAF. There's the location and isolation of Fairbanks. There's the unique situation of the Nanooks' men's hockey team, the university's only NCAA Division I program (its other nine teams are part of Division II) and by far its most visible, which didn't play this season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently without a conference.
But Anundson sees many of those challenges as opportunities. Alaska Fairbanks having both Division I and Division II programs allows it to "explore both sides of the equation." Its membership in the Great Northwest Conference gives it exposure throughout much of the western United States and even in Canada. In addition, its status as a relatively large institution for a Division II program and one of just two four-year universities in Alaska gives it an especially rich tradition, in Anundson's view.
"The community is incredibly bought into their athletics program and their university and you can just tell that everyone up there bleeds their brand," he said. "There's untapped resources up there that I'm excited to explore further and set us further apart from other universities. ... I think I used this term with the search committee. The rebar itself's in place, now we just gotta pour the concrete and build the foundation."
Anundson hopes his career as a student-athlete will give him a valuable perspective on the demands of players and coaches. More specifically, he hopes that his former hockey career and the network he's developed in the sport over the years will benefit him and his new university in terms of building relationships, especially with the Nanooks heading into a period of transition. At least where hockey is concerned, things feel natural for him.
As far as Anundson's personal path?
If you told him, while he was still playing hockey at Minnesota Crookston or just after his career was over, that in about 15 years he would be preparing to lead a Division II program, he might have seen it coming. But probably not that soon.
"I'm an extremely competitive person, so typically when things happen it becomes more of an expectation and you don't have time to celebrate it," Anundson said. "At this point, that's where I'm trying to fit in. About to take over the helm of a Division I hockey program and fantastic school at Division I and Division II, I couldn't be happier.
"I think it's a great fit and as far as age, professional experience, I don't think I would have wanted to be here any sooner. All of the steps and the milestones and the organizations I've worked for have really helped build me to be successful at this stage of my life."
As far as his alma mater goes, Anundson still retains a connection. He stays in contact with a handful of his old Golden Eagle teammates, and returned in the fall of 2016 along with many other former UMC players for an alumni weekend and game. Sooner or later, he'd maybe like to be back there to see the reborn Golden Eagle in action.
"To see the UMC hockey team play and hopefully grow and increase their competitiveness and restart that tradition that was there when I was playing," he said, "just excited to hear and stay in touch with more Crookston athletics."
The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730 or sports editor Jacob Shames at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow along on Twitter @crookstonsports and @Jacob_Shames for all the latest stories and live game updates.