The opening weekend for the University of Alabama in Huntsville Chargers was easily the biggest one they’ve experienced since the program joined the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the 2013-14 season. Last weekend, the Chargers carried out a sweep of 20th-ranked Ferris State, the first sweep of a ranked opponent in the program’s history. It also marked the first time that UAH has started 2-0-0 in WCHA play.
Starting off the season with a sweep like this means so much more than the record on the stat sheet. After going through so many seasons with expectations to win or at least be competitive, the Chargers finally followed through with their own expectations and surprised everyone but themselves. The confidence brooding from this team is at an all time high.
Max McHugh, who we spoke to just before the season started, scored the first goal of the season for the Chargers. He also scored in the second game and earned himself the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. Goaltender Matt Larose made 67 saves and only allowed four goals in the two games. Starting off the season with a .944 save percentage earned him the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week nod.
We caught up with Matt Larose and head coach Mike Corbett following the impressive victories.
How does it feel to start off the season with a sweep over Ferris State?
That couldn’t have gone much better for us. We had all been preparing for that weekend since last May. It was great to go out there and get the sweep, especially for our fans that are long overdue for something to cheer about.
This obviously builds a lot of momentum for the team right at the start of the season. What are your expectations now?
It creates a lot more hype for everyone watching us and around the league. For us, that was the expectation going in. We have high expectations. Really, all we’ve done is raise expectations from everyone else. We really just have to keep improving off of that. If we stop improving, we’ll fall behind in this league.”
Coach Corbett continues to speak on “turning the corner.” How does the team continue to push forward following those wins?
We have to turn the corner and never look back. Basically, we have the right personnel. We have skill, we have speed and have experience. We’ve bene through a lot together. I think we now have that maturity to get through adversity. Last year, we struggled a lot with holding on to leads, and we’d lose our composure a bit. I think if we stick to our game-plan and are smart between the ears, we’ll be fine.
You’re now in your senior year and the crease really is yours with Carmine Guerriero having to sit out the first 12 games. Does that get you amped up even more to play?
It’s exciting. Everyone always wants to help the team win, and of course every goalie wants to play. I don’t think you’ll ask any goalie and have them say they don’t want to play every game. I try not to approach it any differently. We have Jordan Uhelski who’s pushing me constantly, and I know if I struggle, he’ll be able to step in and do just as good of a job.
UAH has a tough road schedule to begin the season. You’ve completed one weekend with two more to go, at UCONN and at Michigan Tech. Does this help bring the team together even more?[laughter] There’s no better way to bond than a 15-hour bus ride. I think it’s great for us. You’re free of distractions and just with your teammates. Especially after this weekend, the guys are even more excited. We’re ready to keep this thing going.
What kind of buzz have you experienced following the win?
I hope we generate some buzz and give them something to cheer about. It also reminds us how many people doubted us in a way. For us, it’s not that shocking, but it seems to shock other people, so hopefully we can continue to surprise everyone.
Head Coach Mike Corbett
Coach, these are exciting times for the program. What does it feel like for you as a coach to start the season off with a sweep of a ranked conference opponent?
It’s great for our kids to see. They’ve worked so hard and nobody’s been watching. And we know that, and we know that we have to earn that. It’s nice that all that hard work in the summertime and in the fall is paying off. Once games start, that’s what everyone looks at, the results of the games. It’s nice that we got positive results for the hard work we’ve been putting in the last two summers. That senior class has put in a lot of work. They’ve taken a lot of punches. It was nice to be able to punch back a little bit and feel good about ourselves.
Did you expect this type of performance over the weekend? How important were those six points?
We came out of the gate really well. We go to UCONN this weekend for non-conference, which is always important. Let’s be honest, when we looked at this one [against Ferris State] on the schedule, the coaching staff was a little scared because you know you can’t win or lose the league the first weekend, but you’d love to be able to come into Ferris State and get one win, get some points and feel good about yourself. With those three-point games, six points just seems like a lot of points. It’s tough to make up six points. I think our league is going to be even tighter and every point is going to be important. To go into a tough place to play and win is just a nice confidence builder for our guys.
Two players, Max McHugh and Matt Larose earned WCHA honors this week. How excited are you for them and how does it help the team?
It just keeps building confidence. If our kids start to believe in themselves like we as a staff believe in them, then people are really going to have to take notice of us. I think this was one of those weekends where, especially Max and Larose, they’re starting to believe in themselves and realize that they’re high-end players in the WCHA, and that’s what we want. Those guys are two guys that have played well over the course of the last two to three years. Those are two of our leaders, and when your leadership has good confidence, like Brent Fletcher getting a goal, Marooney making a play on that goal, Matt Salhany getting a goal, it’s good confidence for our entire group.”
People and coaches around campus talk following big weekends. What kind of buzz have you experienced since returning to campus?
I felt it on Sunday. Everyone knows in the college hockey world that us, Michigan Tech and Duluth were the only real games last weekend, so everybody kind of kept that on the radar. It’s fun to get text messages from buddies who you’ve seen over the summer on the recruiting trail and they congratulate you. We’re trying to get respect not only here in Huntsville, but across the nation. It’s tough when you’re trying to talk to guys about building the program, but when you come out with a good start, it’s nice to get those text messages. And we have great coaches around here, and they support us. It’s nice to be able to get congratulations from them, too. And when you lose, they know we don’t want to talk and when they lose, vice versa. It’s great to get the positives. So it’s always nice.
How does the team keep the momentum going with another road trip this weekend?
We’re going to ride the confidence. We took Monday off, and we have to have energy. We have an early morning flight on Thursday. There’s not going to be a lot time on the ice, so we just have to tighten up our details. We’re going up against Tage Thompson, a first round draft pick, and the young guy Letunov who scored a hat-trick against us last year. We know what we’re going up against. They’re a Hockey East team and they’re playing at home this year. I wouldn’t say there’s less pressure, but when there was six points on the line against Ferris, we really got on our guys because we know how important it was for our team. Now, you’re going into non-conference, and there are always points and wins on the line, but it’s not WCHA. Hopefully we can get a few extra guys in the lineup and let them battle it out. The battle continues around here and deal with success a little bit. It’s a good position to be in for us. In order for us to take another rung up the ladder, we have to be strong, be smart and be sturdy on that next step. These first three weeks are big for us.
UAH plays UCONN on October 7 & 8. Next weekend, they travel to Michigan Tech for games on the 14th & 15th. The Chargers have their home opening weekend against Lake Superior State October 21 & 22. You can find more information here.