Wednesday, 3 June 2020

From Being Saved To Walking Away

Life throws some funny twists at you sometimes. If you've been following the saga surrounding the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers hockey team, you likely know that the team had its funding cut by the university, essentially ending the program altogether. A fundraising effort to save the Chargers was agreed to by the university, however, and the alumni and fans came through in a big way to save the Chargers program for at least one more year, if not longer. While the future was still uncertain, the UAH Chargers would live to play at least one additional season of Division-I hockey thanks to all the money raised. Everything seems like it was on stable ground, right?

It was announced today by Carl Prather of WAFF that UAH Charger head coach Mike Corbett had resigned from the program effectively immediately. No reason was given for his resignation, leaving all sorts of speculation to fill in the gaps in the story. UAH assistant coach Gavin Morgan sent an email to supporters this morning informing them of his decision to step away as well. As per a UAH Chargers statement, "assistant coach Lance West, director of hockey operations Ryan McRae, and equipment manager Damon Wheeler will remain with the team."

According to an email Corbett wrote supporters this afternoon, one of the conditions for Corbett's resignation was giving Lance West, formerly the head coach of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks men's hockey team, a chance to take over the head coaching position. West, it should be noted, had compiled an 11-22-3 record in his final season coaching the Nanooks.

"I want to thank all of you for your support and supporting the players during this time", he wrote in his email. "It meant a lot to me and them. I wish things were different and the results were better, I truly do. I own that. I will not make excuses and I will tell you I came to work everyday and put everything I had into it. Not always making the right decisions, but doing what I thought was right for the program every day. Myself and my staff embraced it and fought the good fight every day. Only we know how that was and it was difficult but continued to put the program and the players first."

For his part, Corbett had compiled a 48-181-24 as the head coach in seven seasons after a two-win season last year. UAH had been to the playoffs three times in those seven years, winning just one game in those three appearances. The 2017-18 season saw the Chargers finish in seventh-place in the WCHA, the highest they'd finish under Corbett's watch. Those numbers may have played a factor in Corbett's decision to leave, but I'm not convinced they were the sole reason for his submitting his

I'm going to avoid conspiracy theorists entirely here by saying that I do not believe that Corbett resigning was a condition for the reinstatement of the program at UAH. It takes some resolve to come into work everyday and give it your all, as Corbett stated, when you know you're fighting uphill against some of the better college programs in the country. I do think that seeing a number of players and recruits already commit elsewhere following the UAH announcement to eliminate the program took a bigger toll on Corbett than anything else, and starting over with a bare cupboard wasn't something he as prepared to do.

Seeing key players leave his program after he came to rely on them, including last year's leading scorer Josh Latta, means that Corbett would start this season further back than where he was last season. No coach wants that situation, and, with the program's future years still uncertain, there's no telling what the recruiting process would be like when it came to attracting talent nor would any coach want to deliver a message to potential players that there was nothing written in stone regarding a hockey future.

If there's one thing that university hockey coaches rely on more than their own knowledge, it's the players they've recruited who fit into their systems when it comes to executing a game plan. By losing all these players, I suspect Corbett's heart wasn't in it when it came to starting over with no guarantee of a future.

As it stands, Lance West has a lot of gaps to fill on his roster, and there may not be a lot of blue-chip recruits out there who are seeking a home. West will certainly have his work cut out for him next year with the current hand he's been dealt, but, if we know anything about the Chargers, it's that they won't go down without a fight!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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