The University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers hockey team is set to begin their second year as part of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). After a trying year last season (2-35-1), the Chargers are ready to fully improve upon last year’s record. With new players coming in and last year’s having a full season under their belt, head Coach Mike Corbett is ready for the season to begin, but wants to temper expectations of the freshmen.
“We’re going to be exciting,” said Corbett. “The biggest goal we had as a staff is to solidify our depth, get guys that could compete in the WCHA. As much as we want those young guys to get time, they’re still freshmen. A lot of it is going to depend on the sophomores, juniors and seniors and the experience they received last year. We’ll slide those freshmen in when we can.”
For the seniors of the group, this is a first time in their college career that there is consistency in the coaching staff. Stability is key to building a successful program. Senior forward Doug Reid is obviously a leader on the team and understands how much it means to have Corbett behind the bench.
“The biggest thing coming into this season is stability,” said Reid. “It’s having the same coaching staff that you know and know their systems and what they want. It’s pretty unusual for an NCAA to have a new coach every year, so it’s a nice change to have Coach Corbett here. Stability is a good thing for me, and definitely the whole team, too.”
Corbett will rely on the seniors, like Reid, of the team to continue in bringing the program back to where it was in its glory days.
“A lot of it has to do with us now,” said Corbett regarding himself and the coaching staff. “They have a coach for multiple years. They know what to expect. Guys like Doug Reid, Ben Reinhardt, Jeff Vanderlugt and Craig Pierce are seniors. We put a lot of responsibility on them in the spring time. They’ve stepped up and they have a defined role. The great thing about it is they want to win. We’re all tired of losing, but they see that there are so many positive things that we can lay a foundation for the future. I’ll go as far as to say that we’re a lot deeper and we’re a better team.”
Before the season gets under way, the team was focused on off season training. Over the summer, coach Corbett elaborated that the coaching staff had given all players an intense workout schedule for the summer. It’s all a part of becoming a more successful team according to Reid.
“It was tough,” said Reid. “Just like any other sport, they ask a lot out of you. You shouldn’t feel mad about doing it. It’s just an expectation more than anything. I think our results on and off the ice will pay off in the end.”
There was a noticeable difference in the players as they arrived back to campus according to Coach Corbett.
“Everybody came in and the returners had a strict talking to in the spring and what their roles are,” said Corbett. “They came back in great shape and they all passed the eye test. Some guys put on some pounds, some lost a few. We gave them the first week of school to get acclimated, but now it’s weight training as well as on-ice sessions.”
In looking back at last season and heading into this season, one of the brightest spots for the Chargers was between the pipes. Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose split most series each weekend and stood on their heads to keep the team in games. Whether they continue to split games or a solid number one is decided is yet to be known. Add in freshmen goaltender Jordan Uhelski, and the competition should be interesting as the season progresses.
“They’re going to battle it out,” said Corbett. “We brought in a freshmen, Jordan Uhelski, that played in the USHL that’s no slouch on his own. He’s going to push those guys to stay on top of their game as much as they pushed each other. Those guys were our best players just about every night last year. We all know on a good team you need high end goaltending and I feel we have that. I’d say it’s neck and neck going into the first series.”
Obviously the team understands how important goaltending is for success in the WCHA. The man standing between the pipes is the last line of defense against a conference stacked with talent.
“I think that’s going to be a huge asset to our team,” said Reid on goaltending this season.” With the experience they gained last year as freshmen and doing as well as they did, I think knowing who you have in the net breeds confidence for our whole team. I think it’s going to be a huge help this year knowing those two will be between the pipes.”
While the team begins the season on the road at Colorado College, the home opener against Bowling Green is on October 17th and Coach Corbett is more than excited for the Huntsville community to see the team on the ice.
“The players we’ve brought in and they way we’ve trained them over the off season, it’s going to be an entertaining brand of hockey,” said Corbett. “We feel we’re going to be able to compete a lot better night in and night out. You’re going to want to watch these young guys and their progression over the next four years starting now. This is something that the people in Huntsville are going to watch grow.”
Excitement is definitely in the air as the team looks to be fully improved since last season. The team can only go up from this point forward, but what’s important to the them is building for the future and eventually competing for a conference championship. Will it happen in the near future? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, the passion and recruiting is present to build the team to be competitive in the WCHA for years to come.
For a full schedule and roster, visit the UAH hockey site.
*Photo credit – UAH Athletics*