Pardon me if you’ve heard this before: Doug Ross, 25 years; Danton Cole, three years; Chris Luongo, two yrs; Kurt Kleinendorst, one year. As I got ready to interview our seniors, I thought about this: when you grow up, you play bantams and midgets, a level or two of juniors, and then you go to college. At all of those stops, you change coaches, but when you come to college, you expect some stability.
The UAH 2014 seniors have not had that stability. How has this affected them?
“At the beginning of the year, it’s something that the seniors talked about,” said Brice Geoffrion. “We looked at how many freshman started here that year and how few of us are left. There was 12 of us, and now it’s just four.”
“When you play junior, you get accustomed to playing for a new coach every year or two, so in that way, it’s similar,” Mat Hagen said. “But for the program, I think that it’s great that they’ve got a guy who’s going to be here for at least the next three years, and I’m sure that he’ll be here much longer.”
“It’s been tough,” CJ Groh said. “It’s been a roller coaster for me, as I’ve never been able to really establish myself with a coach and get an understanding. I think now we’re going in the right direction with Coach Corbett, but it’s definitely tough.”
“It’s been hard in terms of program identity and stability,” Alex Allan said. “As a player, having to change systems every year is difficult. It’s hard having a new guy looking at you every year and thinking, ‘Can this guy play in my system?’ Guys may tighten up more a bit than they should. But on the other end, it’s been a good learning experience having to work with different personalities, systems, and the way people doing things.”
It’s more than just the voice in a player’s ear on the bench — it’s who brought them there. “I was recruited by Lou and Danton, and there’s guys in here that were recruited by Kleinendorst, so it’s a mix,” Hagen said. Geoffrion said, “It was Coach [Dennis Williams] who first reached out to me.” Williams, you’ll remember, was a UAH assistant before taking the Bowling Green job … in 2009.
Corbett has a lot of expectations for the team and his seniors.
“The identity of this team is that we’re better than we have been in the past years,” Geoffrion said. ” We’ve really been needing a skill line, and I think that we might have that in [Alex] Allan, [Chad] Brears, and [Regan] Soquila. But we’re also going to have to outwork every team every night. We’ll have to be in better shape so we can be better in the third and outlast our opponents in the time of the game where they’re won.”
“He’s big on details and discipline,” Hagen said. “The first thing that he wants is for you to be a good person first and then worry about what you are as a hockey player.”
“I think that he’s more of a factor in our education,” said Groh. “All of my teachers tell me that he’s on top of things and finding out how things are going. He seems like a really good players’ coach.”
“He’s pretty easy to read,” Allan said. “He doesn’t say much to me, but I know what I expect from myself.”
“Coach Corbett has been great,” Geoffrion added. “He’s passionate, and you can really tell that he knows what he’s doing. What happened in the past with the other coaches is done.”
Graduation looms for these men. Hagen switched from business into civil engineering, which is the opposite of how that normally goes. “It’ll take me another semester after the switch, but it’s been good for me as I’m going into engineering. This is definitely the town for that. I would’ve never thought growing up in BC and then moving to Ottawa that I would come to Alabama, become an engineer, and settle down for the long term.”
Geoffrion and Allan are due to finish on time, and Groh said that he’ll need a summer to finish. Allan is looking to play professionally.
“Depending on how my year goes, I’ll decide if I want to try to play longer. I’m close to getting my Italian citizenship — playing over there would be an awesome experience. When it comes down to European hockey, it comes down to the quota on imports, so if you have citizenship in that country, you’re not counted against the quota.”
Adversity was the theme of our discussions. Mat Hagen was introspective when asked about that topic. “I got a phone call from Coach Luongo offering me a scholarship. It feels like a long time ago. I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened. Both CJ and I have had some tough times here as well as some good times. I know that being here has helped me grow through adversities, from knowing whether the program would be here or not or who would be coaching. My four years has prepared me for the real world.”
Groh added, “I think that it’s great to come in here and learn to deal with adversity, like Mat said. It’s a great challenge and a time to face things that you’ve never faced before. Hockey’s been an up-and-down for me personally, but it’s been great for me.”
Allan isn’t satisfied with the results that he’s gotten in college. “I was pretty successful in junior, but I obviously haven’t really done much offensively here. I think that I’ve matured a lot as a player. I’ve had to change my game to be successful at this level. I’ve become a lot more well-rounded as a player. Am I happy with where I’m at? No, not really.”
Where do the seniors see the team in five years? CJ was quick with his response: “Hopefully with the same coach.”
Alex expressed confidence: “I think that it’ll be great. We’re in the league, there’s support like I’ve never seen before, and we’ve got a coach who wants to come in here and put a stamp on the program. We’ve got a good group of recruits coming in.”
CJ added, “I think that Dr. Altenkirch has been great with his support, and now that we have a coach here that believes in what we’re doing with school, I think we’re going to be good.”
Mat finished us out: “Just from what we’ve seen here for the first couple of months. The way that this program is going this year compared to our first three years, there’s a big difference. Everything was thrown together last minute. This year, everything is more organized, and you feel like you’re being treated better. In theory, this should make us better on-ice. Then you look at the support that the fans bring, and everything is there for the program to be successful.”
It’s been a rough start to this season, and it’s been a tough time for our seniors, but there is no quit in them.