Photo Credit: UAH Athletics
Alabama Huntsville Ice Hockey Coach Lance West had some challenges coming in this summer. After the program was reinstated, all but one of the original class had gone elsewhere. He had to offer the 12 freshmen he did a chance to build a new future for UAH Hockey.
As Tyrone Bronte noted, West had opportunities to offer to the 12 new freshmen that made it to campus. West pitched all players with different things based on their skills and what they could bring, but all of the pitches had a version of this quote from West included, ” we feel very strongly about our university.” He noted that one of the strategies of his staff in finding players was to find recruits that were undervalued elsewhere at the Division One level. Multiple recruits, like Frank Vitucci, had top-end Division Three offers, yet all had statistics worthy of further consideration, like Bronte. This staff went after players interested in starting their own chapter of UAH Hockey, and ones willing to buy into the new culture, and help build it, like Ayodele (Ayo) Adeniye. As to Ayo’s choosing to stay as the only original recruit prior to the cutting and reinstatement of the program, West said that it “it means a lot…you have a young man who wants to build this. He’s battled his whole life, you can build a whole program around him.”
As to the team this year, their immediate buy in to the changes and systems have been apparent in four games as has their commitment to the group at large. West was positively happy to see how much the ” Work ethic and commitment,.. [along with having the] team mentality first. ” He said that the level of dedication this group exceeded what even he expected. The group has brought into being the foundation of the next chapter in UAH Hockey, and has been working together to implement the needed changes on ice.
Regarding his staff, West has two alumni of the program on it, Karlis Zirnis and Carmine Guerriero,. Both bring big things to the team, and already both have added a lot to the team. Zirnis as an Associate Head Coach spends a lot of time with the defense, and is a prolific student of the game. When it comes to coaching and getting better as one each day, West said that Zirnis “has a passion for it as high as anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s going to be a huge part of our rebuild.” He is the architect to bringing together a pair of successful freshman defenders for the Chargers, putting Adeniye together with his roommate, Bryan Scoville. Both are big and physical players that have the ability to shutdown skill from their opponents as needed.
Moving to Guerriero, West noted that while Carmine is a “goalie guy” given his playing background, he appreciated that, like Zirnis, he is incredibly passionate about improvement and getting better. Guerriero’s tutelage has shown results for David Fessenden especially so far. He was one period away from potentially earning a shutout win over a now ranked Robert Morris side with a lot of veteran leadership, absent an injury during warmups before the third period. In addition, he helped the Chargers secure their first point of the year with a tie against Lake Superior State. Of Carmine, West added ” we know what we can do down here.”
Going forward, do not be surprised if West finds more games in the second half of the season to fill holes in their schedule. With Alaska Fairbanks not playing, the Chargers have an extra open weekend in the second half, and it seems like as West said, that UAH will “play as many games as they can.”
Finally, West just wants his team in a conference next year. He noted the similarities in geography for the Chargers in both schools, and noted the value of having Huntsville in the Division One Hockey family for growing the game. As others have said, part of the process for UAH that matters is building trust in the program again, which the advisory board is working to do, along with finding the right fit.
Moving into the future, to sum this up West put it best in saying ” I just want to play.” This program will go to the conference that wants it, and has a board stacked with business luminaries and on and off-ice NHL talent to help them figure that out.
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