The University of Alabama in Huntsville Chargers begin their season this weekend with the first of three straight series on the road. Two out of the three opponents (Michigan Tech and Ferris State) are not only conference opponents, but also ranked 17th and 20th, respectively, in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll. It’s a tough way to begin the 2016-17 campaign, but it will provide the team with a good litmus test to begin the season.
UAH head coach Mike Corbett is entering his fourth season at the helm for the Chargers. During this span, the team has been so close so many times, but have not been able to make it click. They’ve made the playoffs once and put on quite the goaltending show against Michigan Tech, but the team has yet to make a splash in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Expectations are higher for the Chargers now that the team has a tremendous amount of veteran leadership and even more stability in net.
We recently caught up with head coach Mike Corbett to ask him a few questions on what he expects this season, the new faces on the squad and some of the changes in rules for the league.
What has been your main focus this offseason and what has been the biggest message to the team as your prepare for the season?
I think after last year, one of the biggest things we talked about this spring was turning the corner as a program. How are we going turn those six ties into wins, how are we going to turn a few of those losses into ties or wins, how are we going to turn the corner now that we’re a little bit older? We have a senior class that has a ton of experience, so I think the biggest thing is how we’re going to turn the corner as a program.
What additions have been made to the team this season?
We only brought four guys in, so it’s not a big class, two forwards, two defensemen. We have the majority of our team coming back. Sean Rappleyea is a defenseman, a New York [area] kid who played in Ottawa. Connor James is injured right now with an eye issue; he had surgery over the summer that he’s recouping from, so he hasn’t really participated yet. Those are two guys we really expect to come in and help our d-corps both on the offensive side and defensive side. They are two solid defensemen who are going to help us get up the ice and hopefully add a little more offense.
Up front, we have Jordan Larson. He’s from Ontario. Austin Beaulieu is a Florida kid who played in Wichita Falls in the North American Hockey League. I told the boys that as of last spring every one of them came in as freshmen with an opportunity to do what you do. The freshmen, I’m going to throw them into the fire like I have every other guy that I’ve had here. To me, that’s why we bring them in. That’s why we recruit them, just to be able to throw them in there and see if they can up our talent level and give us some punch. We’re still a team that’s offensively challenged, so we want to be able to use these guys to add some punch to our lineup. Ultimately, our success is going to come from our guys getting older with all of the experiences that they’ve had. I challenged this senior group, that’s taken a lot of punches in their time. They’ve been here since I’ve been here. We’ve played a lot of the top teams in the country over the course of the last three years, and I want to see that senior group punch back. It’s time to take all the learning lessons that we’ve had and turn the corner as a program and let those guys lead the way.”
This is another season where there is stability in the crease. Carmine Guerriero will miss some games, but Matt Larose has solid to finish last season. How does that stability help this team going into the season?
Carmine has to sit out the first 12 games due to him playing junior games after his 21st birthday. He had roughly played 12 games after his 21st birthday, so the NCAA rules says that technically he would have been done after last year. We appealed that and won the appeal. We’re happy he’s back, but unfortunately, he has to sit out the first 12 games. We were hoping for a three for one or even two for one, but instead gave us a one for one.
We have another senior goalie, Matt Larose who was probably our number one guy down the stretch last year. Then you have Jordan Uhelski who has been here for two years. He’s practiced with us and he’s ready to go. He was a kid who played and won games in the USHL. I like our goaltending, I really do. That adds stability and I think, once again, we’re not going to need to rely on them as much as we did in the past. We need to take it to our opponents and have the puck more to where our goalies aren’t always bailing us out. We feel really good about our last line of defense. In our first two years, there were 40 [shots] a night. Last year, it was closer to 35. This year, we have to get it down to 30 or 31. When we get those shots down into the 30-range, we believe that our goals against is going to go down. We believe that we have two, if not three, guys that can give us .910 save percentage, and that’s what is going to win games in the WCHA.
This year, there were some changes to the rules of the game; overtime structure and points system being of biggest concern. How do you see these changes playing out?
A lot of it is for the fans. The net going to give us a little more room behind it. The overtime structure is going to be fun. We talked about it as a league for our fans. There was a lot of discussion how to get the points similar to the NHL, bonus points and things like that. We finally came to a point where it’s going to be two and one with a bonus point. For the fans, three on three [overtime] is going to be fun. It’s going to be just like the NHL. For us, the biggest changes are things that we have to practice now. The shootout isn’t three players, it’s going to be one-for-one from what I understand. To me, that makes it fun for our fans and people coming to games. Those are the things where what we want to do is get the product out on the ice and be able to have some excitement. When you play three-on-three, I don’t care what you practice or what you do, once there’s one opportunity one way, there’s going to be another back the other way. It’s going to be unique and fun. You’re going to get that bonus point, and that’s what everyone is going to be fighting for. They want teams to be able to go for it a little bit.
This is your fourth year as head coach for the Chargers. What are your expectations for the season?
I think the biggest thing is just turning that corner. I don’t want to say that I want to this or that. Our process has been good. We have to make our process better in order to get the results that we want. We’ve been kissing our sister for last year and a half on some things that just haven’t gone our way. There needs to be a true belief that we can win those games. I think a lot of it has to come from our senior leadership. I think people are going to see a little bit more intensity and pushing a lot more. We have a full contingent of Division I players in our lineup, whereas we haven’t in years past. Now, the competition has gone up. It’s going to really push these guys to be good every day where in years past, they didn’t have to be. That makes the expectations that much higher. The biggest thing that makes a good team is that competition within your team. Monday through Thursday is my time. Friday and Saturday is their times. That’s the way we want to be able to do it, but their going to have to earn their jersey. If a guy is not getting it done, we have a guy nipping at his heels to jump in.
These are my guys. Whether I brought them in or not, we have to be able to move forward. We haven’t gotten the results that we wanted, but I think we’ve put certain things in place and we need to turn up the heat on them. That’s what we wanted to do.
The Chargers travel to Ferris State this weekend, followed by Connecticut and Michigan Tech. Their home opening weekend is October 21 & 22 against Lake Superior State. View the entire schedule here.