Alabama-Huntsville: Certainty Amid Uncertainty
Cole Brings Championship Attitude Into Uncertain Future
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
FORT WAYNE, Ind. This season's CHA tournament title certainly wasn't the first championship experience for Alabama-Huntsville head coach Danton Cole. In fact — far from it.
Twenty-four years ago, while a freshman at Michigan State, Cole won a national championship under all-time NCAA coaching wins leader Ron Mason, as the Spartans knocked off Harvard in the 1986 title game. Three out of four seasons in East Lansing, Cole advanced to the Frozen Four, and along the way, he amassed 163 points in 180 games — still the Spartans record for games played.
Eleven years after his national championship, Cole had his name etched on a little trophy called the Stanley Cup, hockey's holy grail won by Cole and the New Jersey Devils in 1995. A season earlier, he scored 43 points with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Needless to say, then, Cole has seen plenty of success. So, in the wake of Saturday's 2-1 loss to Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament, take Cole's word for it when — despite only 12 wins this season and in spite of a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the Chargers hockey program — he insists he's more than happy with his team's performance this season.
Said Cole, "We get a lot of questions, and a lot of people say, 'Geez, you haven't had a very good year.' I think we've had a great year, just how we've moved forward. You build on things. It's tough to go from A to Z in a short period of time, and we've had some issues down there that we've had to deal with. I think the guys have done a good job all year long."
Saturday, despite being heavily outshot (38-17) by the heavily favored RedHawks, the Chargers and goaltender Cameron Talbot found a way to stay close, giving Miami a reason to sweat in the game's final 30 seconds. Indeed, they seemed to take on the attitude of their coach, the one who's led them to more wins this season than each of the last two ... combined.
So do tales of Cole's seasons past — the national championship, the Stanley Cup, and so on — ever make their way into motivational pre-game speeches in the Chargers' locker room?
"It comes up and stuff, but they probably get tired of stories about me," joked Cole. "We try and talk more about things we've gone through as a team. I think that's probably a little bit more important. From an experience standpoint, we can talk about what's happened, and [assistant coach Chris Luongo] and I both went to three Frozen Fours and two finals. So we can pass that along. But nothing bugs people more than when people say, 'Well listen to this story.'
"We try and bring in some other people and some other experiences. If I want to use a quote, I talk about [Michigan State basketball coach] Tom Izzo or [former NHL coach] Scotty Bowman, guys who have a lot of neat things to say. Edification through that. Let them explain what I'm trying to say."
Now, of course, it's difficult to find any words to describe the situation facing the Alabama-Huntsville program. Ahead lies only the unknown, life as an "independent" program following the dissolution of the CHA conference and the inability to find a new conference home.
The CCHA specifically denied acceptance to Alabama-Huntsville last summer.
"These seniors have set the bar for how we want to move forward," said Cole, looking to his left at senior defenseman Brennan Barker, who scored the Chargers' extra-attacker goal late in the third period against Miami. "It's a bit of an unknown moving on to that independent thing.
"But we're better than our record, and I'm proud of what our guys did all year."