Trevin Kozlowski: Consistent competitor, student, and leader

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Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

“If I wasn’t playing hockey anywhere Id be going to a community college
in my hometown,”- Army West Point Goaltender Trevin Kozlowski

Trevin Kozlowski knows the value of hockey to him. With it he has made friends across multiple countries, and had unique experiences that most people could only hope for. He is a Mike Richter Award nominee and winner of multiple other awards playing for Brian Riley. In addition, his consistent banter with Colin Bilek, and ability to be a coach on the ice for the Black Knights is part of why this Army West Point team, with some wins in the postseason, could earn an at-large bid this season. The leadership of Kozlowski is also a reason why Army is 10-0-1 in their last 11 games. If that happened, Trevin would be the first ever Army West Point goaltender to start in the NCAA Tournament. 

Growing up, Trevin was a skater before switching to goaltender full time when he was eight. He grew up in Valencia, California, and had the good fortune of being able to play hockey mere minutes from his house at a local rink. That moment to become a goaltender came as he volunteered to be the backup for his team, saying, “I saw all the cool pads watching the NHL guys when I was a kid”, as an initial reason why. When his coach asked for a volunteer, ” my hand shot up.” He took to the position, and the rest was history there.

When Trevin was looking for a college to go to, a few years later as he worked his way up the junior hockey ranks, a conversation with former assistant Eric Lang, and current assistant Zach McKelvie helped him make his choice. The trio met at the Dunkin Donuts right next to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The pair noted the post-hockey value of having Army West Point on his resume. The school’s prestige, reputation for developing leaders, and history were all big parts of Trevin’s choice to head to West Point. His hard work and consistency as a leader, both for Riley’s team, in the Corps of Cadets, and beyond as a Second Lieutenant in the Army will set him up to do what he wants. Hockey may have gotten him to West Point, but Trevin’s hard work and consistency as a developing leader is what will get him to graduation and set him up to lead American Soldiers.

As Lang (now the Head Coach at AIC) said of Trevin’s progress ” he is a winner,[with a] great outgoing personality, not surprised at all at how good he’s been.”

Today, as a Firstie (senior), he is a consistent competitor that strives for perfection. There is someone Kozlowski watches daily to get better. Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson. Like Trevin, he plays a technically sound and smooth game, that lends itself well to keeping things calm through an efficiency of motion. He will watch him live when possible, and if not live, will make time in his packed daily schedule to watch Gibson highlights. Being technically sound in net, and able to limit bad rebounds is a hallmark of both of their games.

Kozlowski and his long time friend, teammate, and competitor Colin Bilek, have the chance to help the Black Knights punch their ticket to the Atlantic Hockey Semifinals as they take on Sacred Heart University at Tate Rink in a three game series next weekend.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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Brian Riley: Living his dream, helping others at West Point

Brian Riley is another coach in his family following in the footsteps of his father Jack coaching at the United States Military Academy. As he said of his recent win to give the family 1000 wins leading the Black Knights of the United States Military Academy “I know that I’m not a math guy but I know where I sit among them.” That is, in his ultimate humility, he recognizes that he still has a way to go to be the most winningest Riley, and some more work to do just to pass his brother Rob, his predecessor at West Point . Brian has been the leader of this program since 2004, and has been a constant leader on a campus with centuries of developing them.

`When Brian knew he wanted to be a coach, his dad Jack gave him the most important piece of advice that he carries with him, and instills as a philosophy in his staff and team at-large. Jack said, “Bri make sure show your players that you care for them more as people than as hockey players” That is Brian’s guiding star for coaching. Jack’s advice still rings true for Brian today. In all of his years coaching at West Point, he most cherishes the relationships he and his family have built with former players, assistants, and all of the unsung heroes that have made hockey at West Point reach a continued level of success, not only in on ice play, but in developing leaders of character that go on to lead the sons and daughters of America around the world.

A perfect example of the relationships Riley has throughout the hockey world sits on his bench as an associate head coach. When Zach McKelvie was playing for Riley, he had interest from the Boston Bruins. Former General Manager Peter Chiarelli, and his former assistant, Jim Benning, went to West Point and talked to Riley about him, and wanted to sign him upon completion of his senior year, to begin play right away. At the time, back in 2009 that was not possible, as Mckelvie had two years of active service to complete.

The Bruins waited two years for McKelvie, who completed his active duty requirements during that time. The ability of Riley to build that relationship, and of Zach to stay ready in those two years was impressive to see, to say the least. Now, Riley is thankful for the rise of the World Class Athlete Program, now common at all three Division One service academies. As every hockey player wants to play in the NHL, Riley realizes that this program allows him to expand his pitch to more servant leaders that are looking to play hockey professionally. He said, “it gives us the opportunity to tell young men that you can come to West Point and live that dream.”

In effect, this program allows athletes to sign professional contracts and fulfill their obligations where they sign, or delay them until their time playing professional hockey is done within some limits. West Point now has multiple graduates in this program, playing professional hockey in North America, including goaltender Parker Gahagen with the Colorado Eagles, and former captain Dominic Franco with the Rochester Americans.

The relationships built by Riley as part of his family’s decades of coaching in this game are consistently, for Brian, centered around West Point. He is living his dream every day coaching the Black Knights. When his dad, Jack, retired he said” I haven’t worked a day in 36 years.” Brian gets that and feels the same way. As he said, “personally for me I pinch myself that I am the head coach at West Point.” He did not realize it at the time he assumed the role in 2004, but Riley made clear that he is indeed at his dream job.

During his time coaching the game, Riley has built a relationship with so many of his colleagues, they extend far beyond on-ice competition. For example, when Riley’s father Jack passed away five years ago, Air Force Academy Coach Frank Serratore came across the country to be in the Cape Cod church where the funeral was held.

This special rivalry and relationship  Riley has with Serratore and Air Force is a thing to behold. Frank has let Riley address his players before games at times, and while the competition is fierce, the respect is even stronger. Riley notes that his and Serratore’s personality could not be more different, but values what Frank brings to this great game. He also praised the work Frank has done in representing Atlantic Hockey well when the Falcons have made the NCAA Tournament. Air Force was the first Atlantic Hockey team in a two year stretch to knock off the number one team in the tournament. Both times, Air Force, and then AIC beat St. Cloud State.

As Brian says of the Army-Air Force rivalry,  “ We try to beat the hell out of each other for 120 minutes, then we salute the fans together and line up shoulder to shoulder, seniors line up on the red line, everyone else lines up behind them. You really see guys that are going to be on the same team.“

Like in building relationships with coaches and players, Riley is one of the best in this game at building rapport with recruits. Due to the inherent limitations of recruiting at West Point, his staff has to, by definition, look at more leagues in this country than the USHL alone. A lot of his recruits come from the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL), especially teams in and around West Point, like the Jersey Hitmen, and South Shore Kings, to name a few.

Of recruiting, Riley says on its difficulty, “if I wanted to make an excuse I could say yes.” As a result of the rules of joining West Point, “When we go into a rink and watch a junior game… our pool is probably smaller than most.”  At West Point he went on to say that, “it’s like an Ivy League [school] regarding academics, and West Point is the preeminent leadership institution in the world.”

Riley looks forward to having on campus visits, in person, resume as that is one undeniable asset he has, allowing recruits to see the premier leadership institution in the world, amongst a beautiful backdrop, and nestled along the Hudson River, in person.

Finally, Riley noted the growth of his players this season, especially his outstanding first year class lead by Lincoln Hatten. He thought that he knew this group would be special, and that, given the demands of the United States Military Academy, the adjustment for rookies can take up to a full year. Hatten and others have come in, and stepped up right away to help the team stay in the hunt. Because of the outstanding rookie class, coupled with the growth of Colin Bilek, and the always erstwhile Trevin Kozlowski leading the way in net, Riley’s Black Knights are close to being in the top three in Atlantic Hockey this year, and because of having Riley at the helm, the Black Knights will all ways be competitive.

More importantly, for Riley, his program is continuing a 70 year tradition of trying to live up to the basic bit of advice passed on to him by Jack. The program at West Point, lead by Riley, still cares more about his hockey players as people than hockey players, and produces leaders that go on to do great things all over the world.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

UAH Head Coach Lance West: Leading Builders

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.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Words from Conor Witherspoon: UAH Hockey building for the future

The Chargers of Alabama Huntsville have had an eventful past month. Their program was cut and then subsequently given four days to raise 750 thousand dollars to keep it going for a year while looking for a new conference home following the 2020-2021 season. After raising well in advance of the needed sum, the Chargers are now lead by acting Head Coach Lance West. He has scoured the continent for more players to fill the gaps caused by multiple transfers and some recruits choosing to go elsewhere when the program was cut before being reinstated one week later. The team and its newly formed Advisory Board are laying down building blocks for a strong pitch to multiple conferences to find a permanent home following the 2020-2021 season.

That leads us to Conor Witherspoon, the Michigan native has had a wonderful junior hockey career culminating in two years being a key piece of the Shreveport Mudbugs in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The playmaking forward finished his last season in the NAHL with 30 assists and five goals in 52 games.

Witherspoon is a 5’11” defensively sound forward from Metamora, Michigan. One thing to keep an eye on with his development is his propensity to be a leader. In his last two years playing for his Flint Powers Catholic High School side he was an alternate captain, and in his final year with the Mudbugs he earned the honor as well. For the Chargers and West to add to the long-term legacy of UAH Hockey and ensure its success in Division One Men’s College Hockey, he needs a program of leaders to build around. Witherspoon and many in this recruiting class fit that mold.

As to what he wants to study at UAH, Witherspoon is leaning towards a business program of study at UAH, but is not sure what he wants to major in just yet.

Below is some more from Witherspoon on why he chose UAH, and more: