Seventh year Alabama Huntsville coach Mike Corbett has been a “grinder” his entire life. He climbed the playing ranks at Denver from benchwarmer to a two-year captaincy. He served a decade-long coaching apprenticeship under the mercurial Frank Serratore at Air Force, and he helped stave off a death sentence to Huntsville’s Division I program.
Corbett is as subtle as a right-cross, the perfect guy to guide the Chargers through yet another time of uncertainty. FloHockey caught up with Coach Corbett having just returned from an assistant coaching stint with Team USA’s U-17 squad at the Five Nations Tournament in Germany.
FloHockey: You ended your tour with a nice win over Germany.
Mike Corbett: All the teams were pretty good, we had a really good group. Heck, we scored six goals a game. They’re 16-year-old kids and there’s going to be inconsistencies, but for our guys, we encourage them to make plays, to show their skill, and they did.
Does a USA Hockey assignment like this help you get a leg up in recruiting?
There isn’t a lot of young kids looking at Alabama Huntsville as their dream school. Hey, we get that. To be able to go to the camp in Buffalo and have to evaluate 10 teams and pick one team to go across, now I’ve got a pretty good idea what the 2003 age group is.
When we have the foundation to get that national team player, that USHL top-10 scorer, some of these four-star, five-star recruits, we’re going to be ready for it. That kid’s going to know he’s going to come to our program and make a difference. And our foundation is very, very strong.
As I look at your incoming freshmen, a name sticks out: Josh Latta from the BC junior league.
He’s going to be a kid who’s going to be able to play in all situations for us from day one. He’s a competitor, good character. Our league is going to be fast again this year, all the freshmen we brought in can skate. These are kids that are going to be able to go to the hard areas to get points. [Latta] is not the biggest kid out there, but he’s one of those kids that plays a good, complete game.
Last year the Chargers’ success was from the goal out. Should we expect that again in 2019-20?
We hope. Since my time here we’ve had good, solid goaltending. I don’t think that’s going to stop right now. [Mark] Sinclair is the guy we want to able to run with, and we’ve got a 6’6” freshman coming in, Dave Fessenden, that played in the NAHL. He’s got all the potential in the world, and we’re going to need him at one point. If your goalie can out-duel their goalie, you’re going to give yourself a chance. You’ve got to make it through 60 minutes.
How do you shape up on the blue line?
Eventually, we could have three freshmen and three sophomores on our back end, that’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve. The great part about it, our three sophomores played a ton last year. We’ve got a senior [Sean Rappleyea] we can throw in there who has played a lot. Our experience is going to be on our back line.
You played at one of college hockey’s legendary programs in Denver. Now you are coaching a Chargers’ program that will have to scramble as it faces an uncertain future. What is your mindset as you face these challenges?
When I took this job, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’re a program fighting for everything we can get. We’re not the prettiest girl at the bar. That’s just what it is.
What’s happened since I’ve been here: a program folding [2011-12], we fought through that; stuff that’s just happened in the past few months [WCHA seven-team exodus], now we’re fighting through that. This is who I am, I’m a kid that had a son at 17 years old, I’ve been doing this my entire life. So why am I going to stop now?
People have a perception of us. What we’re trying to do on a day-to-day basis is just change that perception. We’re going to keep out mouths shut, we’re going to keep our nose to the grindstone, and we’re going to work. We’re going to punch you in the mouth when we have a chance to punch you in the mouth. Our kids are going to compete.
Plans for a new rink on campus have made news. Cause for optimism?
Yeah. I’ve got a big meeting about it tomorrow. They’re talking about the financing and those types of things, we’re moving forward. I sent out some literature to those seven schools [the departing WCHA schools] where we’re at, and this is something that’s going to happen on our campus.
There’s a place for us in college hockey, we just need to be ready when that opportunity comes, and we need to jump on it and say, ‘We’re ready.’ We want to be a valued member of whatever league that we’re going to be a part of in the future.