By (James Ogletree)

John Bierchen has only been the coach of the Alabama club hockey team for five months, but the impact he has already made is undeniable.

The team is coming off a 9-2 road victory over ACHA Division-I opponent Oklahoma, which was ranked No. 7 in the country at the time. Bierchen attributed the victory to the team’s intent to model itself after professional teams in the American Hockey League. The win over the Sooners earned Alabama its first-ever spot in the ACHA Division-I Coaches Poll on Wednesday when the Crimson Tide found itself No. 25.

“We have nutrition plans that are AHL quality, and strength and conditioning programs,” Bierchen said. “The on-ice coaching and practices or the systems that we play, they’re all AHL quality. We’ve been super aggressive with the standard of excellence that we’ve tried to have.”

The structure of the team’s practices and the emphasis it places on excellence have aided junior Dane Sana’s development as a player.

“Having that mentality on and off the ice helps us perform,” Sana said. “I think that to be treated like professionals is definitely refreshing.”

Practices are generally a combination of intense coaching and methodical concentration, sophomore James Benedetto said, depending on the task at hand.

“We could be doing something where we need to be focused in on one area or where we need to be pushed to be faster,” Benedetto said. “It just depends on what Coach Bierchen wants and what he sees is necessary for us to win.”

Practices also consist of “small-area games,” where players are confined to a smaller section of the rink in order to get accustomed to the speed they’ll play at during the season.

Preparation is stressed by Bierchen and his staff. They ensure that their players are prepared to contribute to the team as both hockey players and as young men, and that they are also willing to contribute to their community

In regards to on-ice performance, Bierchen’s plan has helped new players develop their skills quickly, as seven of the team’s nine goals in the win over Oklahoma were scored by newcomers.

Away from the ice, the team is committed to making a difference. Members of the team visit Holt Elementary School each Monday, support the university’s NCAA teams and have been involved in the talks of a new hockey rink in Tuscaloosa.

The team will also be hosting Harambe Night on Oct. 21 in an effort to raise awareness of endangered species.

“The players saw this as an opportunity for leadership,” club president Jon Lovorn said. “[It’s a] great way to use ourselves as a model for other people to start some sort of change.”

Lovorn said it all boils down to teaching members of the team how to represent themselves, the team and the University in a positive manner.

“Our biggest key component that we want to have throughout this year is professionalism,” Lovorn said. “Whether we’re at Holt Elementary or we’re on the ice for a game or even at the rink for practice. It all needs to be held to the highest standard and the most professional level.”

Despite the team’s success on and off the ice, Bierchen maintained that his expectations of the team have not changed. He did note, however, that Alabama’s results have shown that his tactics are working.

“I don’t think that they’ve changed because it was always to set this bar high and lay the foundation and I think we’ve done a really good job,” Bierchen said. “It [the team’s success] has really vindicated that we’re doing the right thing.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports