Carmine Guerriero: A Competitor in the Net and Mentor Behind the Bench

(Photo Credit: Charles Edgeworth IV.-UAH Athletics)

University of Alabama Huntsville Hockey Assistant Coach Carmine Guerriero has been a goalie most of his life. He played with a competitive fire to be the best he could growing up in the Montreal area. The Charger alumnae and assistant coach on this developing team became a goalie when he was in pee-wee hockey. When he was younger his dad, coach of his team put him in net because it was his turn to play the position, a few weeks into the year his dad played him for the rest of the year because no one else wanted to do it.

The following season Carmine in net made sense as his teammates wanted him in net, and from there he sought to get better and improve. The Quebec native that grew up watching Patrick Roy dazzle the world in net for his hometown team, and a few years later, Carmine would go on to dazzle college hockey.

In 2015, he set the single game Alabama Huntsville Hockey record for saving 76 shots on net over five periods of hockey in a postseason game against Michigan Tech. This single game record is one of the many highlights Guerriero had while playing goalie for the Chargers . The opposing netminder in that game, Jamie Phillips, is now the volunteer goalie coach for the Huskies, the opponent UAH is set to face this weekend.

After Carmine set multiple records at UAH, he played in the ECHL for a brief stint before finishing his time on the ice in the second tier French League. While Carmine earned a tryout chance with the AHL Springfield Thunderbirds for the next season, he decided to move on to his next venture, and one he had done as a summer job growing up, coaching. He credits Brent Brekke with St. Lawrence University for giving him a chance in the 2019-2020 campaign as the Saints’ Volunteer Goalie Coach.

He then joined Lance West’s staff this fall as he moved up the ranks to being a paid assistant coach. The NCAA does not allow for more than two paid assistants per team, and often times, goalie coaches have to find other work to allow them to be volunteers with the team they want to help, as Carmine did at St. Lawrence University.

Guerriero has the same desire to get better and preach accountability with his team behind the bench as a coach as he did on the ice as a goalie. When one of his goalies are out of position, he said that, “I don’t let them slack off.” That is, when they are not in position, Carmine coaches them and mentors them to get better, and in equal measure he is their biggest advocate and encourages them at all times, especially when they remedy position issues and play where they need to be. He appreciates the daily hard work of all of his goalies provide on a daily basis as they work to get better under his tutelage.

For the rest of the team, Carmine on the bench is a massive help. As a goalie he sees the game differently as he has an instinctive eye for plays developing. To put that more practically, he knows how to harness the growing speed of this Chargers’ forward group and works with them to get better shots on net. As a netminder he knows what is tough to defend against and he pushes his team in the offensive end to get more of those chances. For the defense corps which he has been a part of radically improving, he knows where defenders need to be that minimizes top-quality looks along with how they should block shots.

On this Charger team, he notes the buy in from all who have chosen to return and come to Huntsville saying that, ” everybody who didn’t want to be here, left.” Of course, Carmine was added to the staff well after the roster churn over the summer, but he appreciates the hard work and the little things this group here does. For example, he notices that the entire bench cheers in equal measure for practice shot blocks as they do in the game.

He followed that with saying, “we have a group that wants to be here.. they know what it takes to be successful.”

In addition to being thankful to be back on campus with this team, Carmine was effusive in his praise for Lance West and Karlis Zirnis, in equal measure to there thoughts of him. They both provide him valuable advice and help him get better as a coach every day, just as he mentors his goalies and everyone else on this team.

In addition to all of this, Carmine is the lead administrative liaison for the staff. He runs the UAH Hockey Twitter Account, and has done a superb job in program promotion along with helping ensure the numerous off-ice tasks that need completion each day get done.

Every day Guerriero also studies the game. Breaking down video is one of his favorite parts of coaching, and he is able to analyze events in a unique manner given his background. As Charger fans have seen, having a goalie as an assistant coach has benefits in all areas of the ice beyond just the net. The increase in goals per game is a testament to that fact. Regardless of what happens next, Guerriero is as grateful for being back in Huntsville as West, Zirnis, and fans of this team are that he has returned.

Look for his influence in how the Chargers adapt to things in the second half. When defenders get out of position look at their response in the next shift, when forwards fire a shot into the crest of a goalie with time and space, look at what they do in their next shift. When a goaltender for this team kicks a rebound to a high danger area, look at the next shot they face. While all three men have a say in what happens next, Carmine’s voice is a big part of that equation. Like the Chargers on the ice, his improvement behind the bench is consistent, and he wants to get better each day.

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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.

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