When asked what he would consider to be a successful season, first-year Alabama-Huntsville head coach Kurt Kleinendorst was succinct.
“Progress,” said Kleinendorst, who takes over a program that, as the cliche goes, has nowhere to go but up.
“To what degree [we make progress], I don’t know,” Kleinendorst said. “For me to sit here and make predictions would be foolish. I’ve talked about a process we want to follow.
“If we can be consistent, we’ll make some progress. How much will it be? I’ve seen a good group of guys and I do see a big commitment.”
But for a program that’s recorded a grand total of six victories over the past two seasons, commitment may not be enough for the Chargers to earn a measure of respectability.
For starters, UAH is an independent, which Kleinendorst admits is a detriment to his staff’s ability to recruit talented players.
“We have to upgrade our talent pool,” Kleinendorst said. “Right now, we’re a program that’s an independent in Division I. We’ve got good players here. But it’s harder for us under the circumstances to recruit the way we would like.
“Until we can get into a conference, because of our circumstances we might lose out on a top player. We need to get into the WCHA.”
Kleinendorst brings a wealth of coaching experience, primarily in the New Jersey Devils’ organization.
“I’ve done the majority of my work at the pro level which is an invaluable experience,” he said. “The hockey part is hockey. The person part isn’t going to change.
“As I mentioned, the recruiting part will be difficult. But we have good people and we’ll add to our staff. From my end, the coaching part is where I’ll have the biggest impact. When I think about my approach, I think about [Devils president, CEO and GM] Lou Lamoriello, who meant a lot to me. I’m not Lou. But a lot of what I do I’ve learned from him — discipline, paying attention to details and putting my stamp on this team.”
The team on which Kleinendorst hopes to put his stamp is, in a word, young.
“The good news is we have eight freshmen and nine sophomores,” he said. “The bad news is we have eight freshmen and nine sophomores. If we’re looking at the big picture, it might mean it’ll take some time and we’ll take our lumps.
“But where we want to be long term, those numbers down the road will help us be competitive at some point. It might cost us some games. But down the road it will help us win some games.”
Freshmen who may help UAH win some games include offensive defenseman Steven Koshey, defenseman Anderson White, goalie Gregg Gruehl and forwards Chad Brears, Jack Prince, Jamie Kendra and Stephen Hickey.
“Everything we do must be better,” Kleinendorst said. “We have to find a way so that we’re prepared to play every night and focus on the process.
“I don’t think anybody expects us to go from two wins to 22 wins. We’re looking for progress and players to keep a great attitude and work hard.”
About the Chargers
2011-12 record: 2-27-1
Key losses: F Mac Roy, D Tom Durnie, G Clarke Saunders
Players to watch: G John Griggs, F Kyle Lysaght, F Justin Cseter, D Graeme Strukoff
Impact rookie: D Steven Koshey
Why the Chargers will finish better than last year: New head coach Kurt Kleinendorst brings a wealth of experience at the professional level, primarily in the New Jersey Devils organization. All Kleinendorst has done wherever he’s coached is win. The Chargers also have a schedule that includes only one team that played in last season’s NCAA Division I tournament, defending national champion Boston College.
Why the Chargers will not finish better than last year: Seventeen of the 25 players on UAH’s roster are freshmen or sophomores, which underscores the team’s lack of experience. UAH also must improve on a brutal 8 percent (9-for-113) conversion percentage on the power play.