Dominick Procopio: One must imagine him happy

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Dominick Procopio has one of the most refined views on life and hockey that we have seen. The defenseman who just transferred to Alabama Huntsville is coming to study English, and pursue a Masters Degree at Huntsville in Literature. The reasoning behind that goes to his love for existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Camus said in the myth of the Greek Legend Sisyphus, forever cursed to push a boulder up a hill for it to roll back down and start over the the next day ” one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Kamus comes to this conclusion, arguably because to perform a task, repetitively, he concludes that Sisyphus must enjoy what he is doing. That quote is Dominick’s favorite, and one we kept jumping back to discussing as we talked about his choice to come to Huntsville. He does so with nothing but thanks and gratitude to everyone in Lowell, and the staff there was helpful in coordinating whatever he needed in his journey to Huntsville.

He comes to Alabama Huntsville from Umass-Lowell. His relationship with the Huntsville staff centers around his time being coached by current Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis. He coached him when Procopio pushed his Shreveport team to a Robertson Cup. That moment so far has been the highlight of his hockey career. Since coming to Lowell, in his three seasons there, the stay at home defender has played more than 10 games in a season once. His box score numbers do not account for the kind of player he is. As he said,” I’m not flashy but I am effective.” He is bringing a game that should fit well with the current group of defenders. Karlis taught him to focus on being himself, noting that there are a lot of ways to be effective on the back end. As Dominick said that he has learned from Karlis ” you don’t have to be Erik Karlsson to be effective.”

Dominick wants to model his game after Mark Giordano. That is, he wants to be the responsible player who knows how to add offense in bursts when able. As he put it of what fans of the Chargers should expect from him both on and off the ice,” I am going to be unapologetically myself.” On and off the ice, Dominick wants to be involved with teaching. He values all of his professors, and teachers, past, present and future. Getting a Master’s Degree in Literature from Alabama Huntsville would allow him to have options. When we asked about what he wanted to do when he was done playing hockey, he mentioned every option from coaching to being a tenure-track professor. In his time in hockey he has helped shape people’s minds and served as a servant-leader for the teams he has been a part of, Procopio looks to bring same mindset towards leading a college classroom one day.

He picked Huntsville because it looked like the program that provides the best fit for him to play. He did tell Karlis when he comitted, ” you have to let me fail.” By that he means letting him get consistent looks and chances to develop chemistry with a defense partner and play. Procopio is thankful for his time at Lowell, and actually received sound reviews of Lance West’s coaching style, and West himself from former Charger Josh Latta when making the tough decision to transfer. For the positives he is bringing to Huntsville from Lowell, he noted the superb culture of the team that he was a part of, that same culture allowed the River Hawks to go on a postseason run and finish one game short of the NCAA Tournament. As he said of Lowell’s culture, “if your car breaks down you can call anybody… and you can play two games and be respected like you have 40 goals.”

As he continues to push the boulder up the mountain, and works to improve his game and his grasp of existentialism on a daily basis. One thing is clear, in making the choice to come to Huntsville, Dominick has found a place where he can continue his academic career, while getting more chances to help his team push the boulder up the hill each day and improve, not just in practice, but in games. A lot of the growth in Alabama Huntsville this past season came from a new start during each week, from having the ability to delete the past and work harder to strive to a better future. Dominick plays his game around that same ideal, and will be a leader for Zirnis once again, and a leader for Alabama Huntsville, on the ice, in the practice room, in the classroom, in the community, and in so many other places. He is himself, and one does not have to look very far to imagine Dominick to be happy with his choice to transfer to Huntsville.

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BSU 4 UAH 0: Recap and three thoughts

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Other than the pace of scoring, for the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville, today’s regular season finale against Bemidji State looked eerily similar to the series opening loss yesterday.

That is, the Chargers had multiple chances to take the lead or tie things up, but could not solve Bemidji State goaltender Zach Driscoll who put another shutout on the board on his Senior Day game. Defensively, for the first two periods, the Chargers were able to limit the looks of the Beavers to the periphery, and clear the danger areas for most of the first 40 minutes.

Their issue, as was the case last night, came down to dealing with long shifts and getting tired out. Bemidji State has worn out teams all year to score a lot of goals, and today in the first two periods was no different.

The moment that put the game away for the Beavers came in the third period. Peyton Francis came down into the offensive zone midway through and hit both posts with his shot. At the other end, Alex Adams potted an unassisted goal to make it 3-0. Upon review, his goal stood as Francis’ shot never crossed the red line according to any available view. 27 seconds later, Adams scored against Derek Krall again to make it a 4-0 game. Despite multiple chances from the Chargers to round out the game, they could not solve Driscoll, who finished with 13 saves for the game.

What have we learned going into the postseason

This Chargers group did a lot of things right this weekend, when you look beyond the box score against a defensively strong Bemidji State team that will serve this group well next weekend against Laker Superior State, and beyond. They also did some things this weekend that will be hot topics of discusson with UAH Head Coach Lance West and his staff this weekend.

Here’s some takeaways from today

Take the quick out/make the simple play

Multiple times today the Chargers could not get a clear and a line change. Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis, among others, has driven home to this team the value of simplifying their game on defense. When you face a veteran team like Bemidji State who knows how to make you pay for your mistakes, and you make them.well the result is what we saw today. As this team matures, they will learn to take the simple out to get to their offense. In net, while Derek Krall had some nice saves today, the team gave up their second goal after he did not cover the puck and the Beavers hemmed the Chargers in. While he will get better at making that read, and had some highlights today, the ability to make the simple play or clear was not shown as a need by just the skaters for the Chargers today.

Speed will bring this program forward

Two players stood out this weekend for their speed, Tyrone Bronte and Peyton Francis. Both of them had some of the best looks the Chargers had all weekend, and Francis came millimeters from making things a one goal game before Bemidji State scored their two insurance markers to provide the final score. Speed is what will get this program to the next level, and these two have it in spades. Their effort today and this weekend was some of the best for the Chargers. Francis had many good looks today, and Bronte threw some of the best checks of the game for either team. His ability to get physical and add some checking to his game has grown leaps and bounds since he came to Huntsville

Delete the past

This team has one series to win, next week against a Lake Superior State team that they were about nine seconds away from earning at least two points against on the year, all on the road. The Lakers have a bit more offensive upside than Bemidji State, and one of the best goaltenders in the country in Mareks Mitens. They are also a bit more open in their game and present more opportunities to be countered than the Beavers do. If the Chargers can play the same way they did in the first and second period tonight, and make the simple play to get a few more clears, then against a team that is more open and more offense forward, they can make things interesting.

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UAH Hockey: Positives, and lessons learned on Senior Day

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Phography

Today, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville scored first again. Lucas Bahn walked down to the goal line and fired a puck off Bowling Green netminder Zach Rose and in to send the loud Von Braun Center crowd into a frenzy. Not long after that, Tim Theochardis scored on a turnover that left Bowling Green with a breakaway where David Fessenden had to defend against multiple shooters by himself.

After that goal, Alabama Huntsville found itself in a familiar spot. They had to answer back after having their opponent eqalize the score. They did just that as Drew Lennon put home a shorthanded tally to give the Chargers the lead that would last until the third period. Bowling Green scored two goals 54 second apart to go ahead for good, an added an empty net tally to secure the 4-2 win. Despite getting outshot, Alabama Huntsville played the Falcons much closer than they did in the opener, only getting outdone in shot attempts by 14 (50-36).

What have we learned about the Chargers today? Well, today’s effort was the best summation of what this team can do against top end talent when it plays together. Did they lose? Yes they did, on a beautiful goal from Sam Craggs, a turnover for the first goal and a power play conceded. Despite the result, there are some good things from today to remember that can serve as a guide for this group the rest of this season.

The seniors are still important

Connor Merkley, and Connor Wood both had big parts in today’s efforts for the Chargers. Merkley centered the second line, and went 12-10 on faceoffs. More than that, he provided some help on offense with the primary assist on Bahn’s goal. His physical presence in the top six is always welcome, and credit to Merkley for coming in after not playing for 23 days to put in the work he did on his line today. As for Connor Wood, well, his leadership and physicsal play lead to Alabama Huntsville getting extended power play time in the second period. Although they could not score on any of it, Wood’s determination to get to tough areas and his speed pose problems to all of his opponents. That same level of speed and truculence could land Wood a professional contract after his time at Alabama Huntsville is done. As Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis said of the seniors’ impact on the program ” They are people who care a lot about the program and giving everything they can to the program. They have been thru a lot and many ups and down and we are thankful for everything they done. ”

This staff sees the support it gets

Alabama Huntsville finished its home schedule second in the nation in perent capacity attendance behind only the University of North Dakota. As Zirnis notes ” I’m very thankful for the people come out and support us thru these hard times. It means a lot for our guys and our staff. We appreciate every person who has attended the game or supporting us via internet. I can promise you will we keep working hard to improve our hockey program and there are better days ahead of us.”

Game management

As Zirnis said ” We limited our mistakes in the game and played a lot more physical today. We had shoot first mentality and going hard to the net.” The game today was the most complete game that this group has played all year. They did everything they could to stay in the game, and limit mistakes. Bowling Green happened to bury one of them (the four-on-four goal) on rare turnover. Going forward, if this team can get one foundational building block from the Bowling Green series, how it played a team likely to make the NCAA tournament today would be one thing to take from the series moving forward.

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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UAH Hockey: Taking positives, things to build on, and moving forward to face Northern Michigan

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Tonight, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville lost to the Mavericks of Minnesota State 5-0. The score is something that of course, no player in the room is happy about. this staff has some work to do in order to get this team ready to face a Northern Michigan side that is getting back a lot of key players from injury and that defeated Bemidji State 5-1 tonight, including two shorthanded goals in that effort.

Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis took some time to provide thoughts on the evening.

On what UAH learned from the weekend series

“We saw a elite team come to our building and we had a taste what elite teams do and how hard we have to work and what strides we need to take to improve our game.” There were moments that had UAH competitive against this team, like scoring first last night, and being able to block a lot of shots on the penalty kill.

On adjustments for tonight and going forward
“We kept them under 40 shots and that was one of the goals tonight. We are teaching our players about discipline and keep working on making plays under pressure.” The shot suppression effort of this team was a little more complete tonight, and was its best in the third period.

Zirnis on the play of the top line, lead by Tyrone Bronte, keep this in mind going forward for this team.

” Bronte’s line did a good job making plays and had created very good scoring chances for us.”

Lessons learned from tonight, according to Zirnis.
“There is always learning lessons from the games you play. Unfortunately these lessons are hard but you still have to learn from them. On the positive side I spoke about the under 40 shots. We had some guys in the line up that we get to evaluate and see in action where their game is at and things they need to work on.”

The staff appriciated the compete level of the team, read more about what it meant from Zirnis here:
” We did never give up on the weekend. When things got hard we kept fighting We kept playing and tried to keep playing the game the right way. Proud of the group of not giving up and kept battling for each other.”

The next game for these Chargers comes Tuesday afternoon on the road at Northern Michigan. Read about Zirnis’ thoughts on what’s next for this team.
“Northern Michigan is playing good hockey right now and they are finding their groove. We have a great challenge in front of us but we are looking for the opportunity to play them and keep growing our game as a team.”

No one wants to lose in this sport, ever. With that said, these Chargers now have experience against a top contender for the national title under their belts. In addition, they are now set to face a team that they are contending with for postseason seeding. The better the Chargers can do in games against the Wildcats, and Lake Superior State, the higher their seed is, and the more they can add to their positive experiences on ice. For a team that is working to delete its past, to their credit, this weekend provides a solid base of encouragement and good moments to build a new future of UAH Hockey with.

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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No weaknesses: Karlis Zirnis on prep for Minnesota State

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Associate Head Coach of Alabama Huntsville’s Hockey team, Karlis Zirnis, noted the tough challenge that his Chargers will be facing heading into the weekend. Of the Minnesota State Mavericks, he was incredibly succinct. He said that, “there’s no weaknesses on that team.” If he had to pick, he would support calling the Mavericks the best team in college hockey. They exude speed and are prodigious at driving a very physical brand of hockey, and do not give up a lot of shots. Of the ones they do give up, they have a Hobey Baker Award candidate in Dryden McKay on hand to stop them.

Furthermore, in expanding on how good Mike Hastings’ Mavericks are, he compared them to the Soviet Union teams that dominated the era of international hockey in the 1980’s. All of that is to say, the Chargers will have a bit of a challenge just managing the game against the Mavericks, let alone trying to win a game or two in this series.

That is not to say Karlis does not see a way forward for his Chargers. He does, but it will require perfection from his still developing team., given how good their opponent is Michigan Tech capitalized on a few mistakes to widen their leads in the third period this past weekend. The Mavericks have the ability to do that right away in each battle starting Thursday. For the Chargers to compete, they have to play to their five man system, all weekend, and get some help with scoring by the committee that Head Coach Lance West has referenced. After a month off for recovering from Covid-19, the team now has had time, and games under their belts to get ready before facing arguably the best team in the country on Thursday and Friday this weekend.

How it goes will depend in large part on what the team does together. If they can come close to replicating the first period in the finale, they have a chance to make life more interesting than the Mavericks are expecting. Anything but that effort, will produce a result that most of the country outside the UAH locker room is expected. This team has a chance to prove a lot of people wrong this weekend. How close they get to that will come down to their consistency, ability to manage the game, and making Dryden McKay face more shots per game than he typically does.

As Zirnis has often talked to us when noting the mentality of this team, especially relevant for this week, the team needs to play a perfect game in all three zones to force the Mavericks to alter what they do. Given the absence of Ryan Spooner for this weekend and perhaps another forward or two, UAH will not be facing the Mavericks at full strength. How they can start, manage the ebb and flow of the game, and what support they provide their goaltender, that will determine the outcome, not any of the past two decades of Minnesota State wins against this program.

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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UAH Hockey: Learning and moving forward

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

The Chargers of Alabama Huntsville are a team with 14 freshmen, and of them 13 were not planning on being Chargers before the program was brought back. We say this from time to time to provide perspective. Furthermore, this team, despite losing by one additional goal, played a better finale against Michigan Tech, and had some standouts in the process. In addition, the non conference game gave UAH a final chance to evaluate their roster before jumping back into WCHA play, and before playing a top 10 Minnesota State team this Thursday and Friday.

Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis described the weekend well in saying:

“We like our effort and the team works hard. It is a learning experience for our team that we keep up our effort for 60 minutes and keep our consistency and our execution for the whole game.”

After noting the improved effort from Friday, he went on to explain the numerous line changes, saying that:

“We have to make sure we evaluate all the players and the best way we can do that is giving them a opportunity in the game scenario.” Taking time to develop everyone requires that they all get to play to have some area of improvement to work from. The team is also recovering from a Covid-19 outbreak, and hung with Michigan Tech for most of this game, despite the final score line.

On the best forward duo this team has of Tyron Bronte and Bauer Neudecker, Zirnis said of their work together:

” Both of the have good vision and very good speed. Both of the players play hard in the hard areas of the ice and are not shy from physical play. Their goals come from going to those areas of the ice.”

One of the many freshmen who has impressed the staff is Bennett Stockdale. His speed and tenacity earned him a spot with Bronte and Neudecker. Saturday night he put home his first college goal off a Michigan Tech defender and into the back of the net. Of his work and improvement Zirnis said:

” Bennett did a great job jumping in and playing with those two guys. Bennett used his speed and did complement the line very well.”

In responding to these questions after the finale, Zirnis did note the overall improvement of the team from the series opener, saying, ” I thought we broke the puck out a lot better tonight and had some opportunities come out as unit of five out of our d-zone into the transition game.” Those good moments for Lance West’s team have to serve as a marker for this week.

The Mavericks of Minnesota State are coming off a sweep of their closest contender in this league, Bowling Green, and will want to burnish their WCHA lead. They have speed, and a lot more skill up front than Michigan Tech, and a top five netminder behind their skill named Dryden McKay. To have any chance against these Mavericks, UAH will want to look to the positives of Saturday, and continue to work towards those good moments.

The Chargers showed that they can and will compete with anyone this year as their efforts against Robert Morris in their opener, their tie against Lake Superior State, their sweep of Ferris State, and their win everywhere but on the scoreboard in the first finale against Michigan Tech have all indicated. This week presents another challenge, but one this staff will have them ready to take on.

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

Karlis Zirnis: Creating a Path at UAH Hockey

Photo Credit: UAH Athletics

Karlis Zirnis is the Associate Head Coach for Alabama Huntsville Hockey, and a proud alumnae of the program. The Riga, Latvia native is also a passionate advocate for development and genuinely enjoys recruiting the type of player that this program will need to succeed. He has coached internationally for Latvia, including at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

First, he got to Huntsville to play ice hockey through hard work and persistence. He wrote to every program he could in hopes of playing beyond the end of his junior career. Only one program gave him a chance. Former head coach Doug Ross sent him an admission application. Karlis was able to apply and get to Huntsville. The path was not done, as he had to redshirt as a walk on and spent the year getting better. Every day he had to prove that he belonged in Huntsville and he did just that. Zirnis went on to play four years as a Charger finishing with 119 points (73 assists, 46 goals) in 143 games, and finished his time as an on ice leader for the Chargers.

After playing in various minor leagues around North America, Karlis returned to the Southern Professional League’s Huntsville Havoc to finish his playing career. In his last full season, he was the on-ice leader as captain of the Havoc.

He then worked his way up the coaching ladder to where he is now. Along the way, Karlis has instilled his persistence and work ethic in every player he has coached along the development ladder. In addition, the network of relationships has already paid dividends for this program. Not being able to see Tyrone Bronte in person this year, he harkened back to his time with the Shreveport Mudbugs in the North American Hockey League coaching against Bronte in the semifinals. He knew Bronte’s coach with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights and was able to kickstart the conversation about Tyrone with West which eventually lead to Bronte becoming a Charger.

Once the Associate job opened at Huntsville Lance West called Karlis first. The fit was natural given that West had coached Karlis on Ross’s staff and that they had a working relationship for years after that. In addition, both men have similar philosophies on coaching and what they want to see in a recruit, especially a recruit in building a program in their image of hard work and selflessness.

Zirnis does spend a lot of time developing defenders on the team, and is the architect behind the idea to play Ayodele (Ayo) Adeniye and Bryan Scoville together. As he noted, their statistics prove they are a shutdown pair, and they play well off each other, along with being on their strong sides. It was clear to Zirnis as soon as they stepped on the ice, and the pair has continuing chemistry as a potential shutdown pair for UAH in the years ahead. They have the size and mentality needed to clear net-fronts so goalies can make stops easier, and to limit rebound goals that have plagued prior Chargers teams of recent memory.

Karlis also runs the penalty kill which he likes to mirror the personality of the team. That is they are, as he said, “relentless and unafraid and [when playing well together will] outwork the power play.” The Chargers have been doing that through the help of Karlis and the speed they all bring to the table. All of the returners seem to have picked up more speed, and every freshman in this class can skate well.

Relating to another member of the team, Carmine Guerriero , Zirnis also noted that the assistant coach is “more than a goalie guy.” Carmine gives a netminder’s perspective to Karlis’ special teams work to start, he knows what UAH hockey has been as a netminder, and actively helps to maintain the new culture of Charger Hockey. Carmine also is the head social media manager, among the many hats he wears, and liaison between administration and the staff. Throughout this interview, the amount of things each coach does in college was referenced including the copious administrative work needed for any program to function. Carmine handles the bulk of that as he looks to start as a paid assistant coach at the same place where he became one of the most influential netminders in this program’s history.

Another area Karlis meshes in this program is in the type of player he looks to recruit. Hardworking players that, like so many current Chargers, can be overlooked by other programs for the roles they deserve a chance to compete for are on the top of his list. Finding all of these attributes is an ongoing work for Karlis, who watched countless hours of video on the 12 freshmen whom they offered to make up most of their recruiting class. Between video and the extensive network of relationships he has built, the Chargers have pipelines to places now that they may not have had before.

For instance, given Karlis’ work with the Latvian Junior team, and the expansion of Latvian players in college hockey, it makes natural sense that UAH fans could see some more Latvian players in Huntsville soon, Relating to the broader international hockey landscape, he is a fierce advocate for showcasing college hockey abroad, helping international players navigate the tough admission process of UAH, and giving them the tools to keep their grades where they need to be.

As recruiting is an ongoing battle, and given the unprecedented year we are in, Karlis has helped the Chargers, pending admission, get a player to join them for the second semester from an unnamed school. Given the recent decision by the NCAA to grant immediate eligibility to Division One Student Athletes who transfer for this year only, this addition may not be the last we see for the Chargers over the holiday season.

Going forward Karlis sees the inherent value in the advisory board. He noted the expanded relationships of everyone in the group giving UAH acess to things it has not had before, Karlis was also complimentary of the administration at Alabama Huntsville for giving their full support to the team looking to add games in the second half of the season.

To sum all of this up, the grand plan for UAH Hockey is quite simple. Zirnis put it best saying, “we are not in this to survive, we want to make sure we are competing to win a championship.”

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.