USCHO.com takes a good look at the current situation with UAH hockey, its difficulties, and how the program charges on (pun intended, of course) as it tries to join the WCHA. Includes quotes by Kurt Kleinendorst and Dr. E.J. Brophy.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Less than a year after retired UASystem chancellor Mack Portera relegated the program to club status after February 2012, and ten months to the day that UAH President Dr. Robert Altenkirch extended the varsity life of the program for the forseeable future, it just so happened that a team from Big Bad UAT would come to Huntsville to try and beat up on Little Sister UAH.
While the Chargers and Crimson Tide have tangled a little of late—men’s basketball has held their own in exhibition games each of the last two seasons, after which the Chargers would progress to the Division II Elite Eight—this was Huntsville’s chance to shine brightly, with UA’s Frozen Tide club team coming to play the varsity Chargers. It was the one-sided contest that everyone expected it to be; I’d joked for a good three weeks that it would be Alabama (+6.5) on the road, just to see if football fans noticed. Saturday night’s game would prove to be a 12-1 stampede of the sort that Nick Saban would appreciate.
With Kurt Kleinendorst still in his first month as UAH’s head coach, everyone was excited to see what would transpire. K2‘s charges scored early and often. Nashville’s Sebastian Geoffrion lit the lamp with just :30 gone with a back-hand shot between Sean Vinson’s pads. Atlanta’s Kyle Lysaght followed his linemate’s lead, scoring the first of his five goals just 2:17 later.
“I saw a lot of things that I liked,” Kleinendorst said. “We’ve only been together a little while, and we did some good things. We did some things that we’re going to have to find a way to do better. … It’s a win. We’ll take it, but I don’t want to get carried away with it.”
The Chargers kept building momentum, with goals from Lysaght and Curtis deBruyn (Calgary, Alb.) followed by shorthanded goals from Nashville’s Brice Geoffrion and Lysaght. From there, the Chargers cruised to victory. Freshman Chad Brears (Cold Lake, Alb.) scored twice, freshman Steve Koshey (Trail, BC) scored once, and junior Alex Allan (Calgary, Alb.) scored late in the second after knocking a guy through the corner door in the first period. The three stars of the game were deBruyn (1-3–4), Justin Cseter (Menomonie, Wis.) (0-4–4) and Lysaght (5-0–5).
Neither Charger netminder saw much work in the game. Freshman Gregg Gruehl (Dublin, Ohio) got the win, seeing only three shots on goal in two period, all in the second. Junior CJ Groh (Cincinnati, Ohio) saw one shot on goal in his 20:00 of action.
Alabama coach Mike Quenneville (UAH ’90) was clearly excited about the opportunity that playing the Chargers presents to his team. “We preach stuff every day, and when we get an opportunity to play a team that does everything so right, and have got the speed, it’s going to make us a better hockey team.”
Alabama scored midway through the second period, as 5’4″ Huntsville native Mark Wysock, an aerospace engineering student in Tuscaloosa found open space in the slot to push in a tumbling rebound for a power-play goal.
Kleinendorst seemed happy with his team’s effort. “For the most part, the guys went out and executed the plan that we’ve put in place up to this point. This is not about winning. This is about the process. When you play the game the right way, when you work your way through the process, winning is a by-product of that.”
The teams play the second game of the series at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, and Quenneville is ready to see his team face the challenge. “[The Alabama players] are going to get faster, they’re going to be smarter, they’re going to move the puck quicker. We’re definitely going to get better for this experience.”
Here’s the press release:
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Kurt Kleinendorst, a former assistant coach in the National Hockey League, has been named head coach of the men’s ice hockey team at The University of Alabama in Huntsville following the resignation of the Chargers’ current head coach Chris Luongo.
Kleinendorst served as an assistant coach and scout for the New Jersey Devils for nine years, and most recently was the head coach of the Binghamton Senators in the American Hockey League where he led that team to a conference championship in 2011. He also coached the Under-18 USA Hockey National Team to a gold medal in the world hockey championship in 2010.
“We believe Kurt Kleinendorst’s experience coaching at the highest levels of the National Team Development Program and professional ice hockey, and the discipline he will bring to the program on and off the ice, will create an environment that will allow us to enhance our status in Division I hockey as he takes over the reins as head coach,” said Athletic Director E.J. Brophy. “Our program is at a critical juncture in its history, and our best opportunity to maintain our tradition of competitive ice hockey lies with Kurt Kleinendorst.”
Kleinendorst played ice hockey for Providence College for four years, where he was an All-American and a Hobey Baker finalist. He was selected in the fourth round (77th overall) of the 1980 NHL entry draft by the New York Rangers. He was a member of the Tulsa Oilers team in the Central Hockey League, and played minor league hockey in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands through 1990.
He joined New Jersey in the National Hockey League as an assistant coach and scout, serving for nine years with the Devils organization. In that role, he helped the Devils win the 2000 Stanley Cup championship. Kleinendorst also coached the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Lowell Devils, from 2006 to 2009.
“During my 30-plus year association with Kurt Kleinendorst, I have been fortunate to watch him develop as a student-athlete, player, scout and coach at various levels,” said New Jersey Devils President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello. “There is no question in my mind that Kurt will be a decided asset to the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey team both on and off the ice, and help UAH in their pursuit of a major Division I hockey conference affiliation.”
The Ottawa Senators signed him to a two-year contract in 2010 as head coach for their AHL affiliate Binghamton Senators. Also, Kleinendorst’s brother Scott played in the NHL.
Kurt and his wife, Deon, have four children: Ryan, Kollin, Kaitlyn and Jake.
I have a lot of thoughts about this, and I’m hoping to put them together for you this week. I got an email from Lou at 4:22 p.m. yesterday; by 5:00 p.m., this press release was public.
This is a huge change on a number of levels. I encourage all of you to—no matter your feelings on this matter—continue to support the program. You don’t hire Kurt Kleinendorst with the idea that you’ll drop to club hockey. No matter what this move may be internally, externally it is a huge “we are committed” to the WCHA. That cannot be stressed enough. If you want to see UAH continue on as a varsity program, Kurt Kleinendorst is your head coach, and we must ride with him.
More later after things settle down a bit.