By (Matthew Speakman)

Alabama head coach John Bierchen will accept an assistant coaching position with the professional hockey team, the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Bierchen coached Alabama for one season and led them to a 19-14-2 record while turning the team’s focus towards a professional style.

The Indy Fuel are a part of the Chicago Blackhawks organization and play in the ECHL, which is two steps below the NHL. The Fuel joined the Blackhawks’ organization in 2014 as their official ECHL affiliate.

Bierchen believes the move to this new program can help Alabama get more attention.

“Certain people around here need to take a step back and say, ‘hey, it’s time to start investing a little bit more in this program,’” Bierchen said. “Look at how far it has gotten without too much of an investment. If we just invest a little more resources, this thing could blow up.”

Bierchen had ties to the Chicago Blackhawks organization before accepting this job. His mentor and friend, Ted Dent, coached Chicago’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs for 11 seasons. Dent helped players such as Niklas Hjalmarsson, Bryan Bickell, Corey Crawford and Andrew Shaw make the jump to the NHL. However, Dent was relieved of his duties in April.

Even with this tie being cut off, the Fuel kept Bierchen on their radar. Bierchen met with Fuel head coach Bernie John at the NHL Draft, and was offered the job in the coming weeks after that meeting.

“Hopefully (Indy) can lean on me with some of the things that (Alabama) has done recently,” Bierchen said. “…There are some things that we experimented with in practice and in games that can hopefully help (Indy) as well.”

During his one season at Alabama, Bierchen brought in multiple players from all over the country, including four NCAA Division III transfers. One of those transfers, Pierre Ouellette, became Alabama’s first ever ACHA All-American.

Bierchen let the players know by calling them individually. If someone was unable to talk to Bierchen, defenseman James Benedetto, who grew close to Bierchen over the course of the season let them know so that everyone was on the same page.

Benedetto said Bierchen leaving is a tough pill to swallow, but is excited to see the coach get new opportunities.

“I really developed a close relationship with Bierchen. He really allowed me to grow as a player,” he said. “Also, this is what pro hockey like. Guys get wonderful opportunities and have to take them. It’s bittersweet.”

Even though he is leaving the program, Bierchen believes his move to the pros can be a positive for Alabama. Now, the team has a connection to a professional team that it didn’t have before. This could give players opportunities to make the jump from college to pro hockey in the coming years.

“People told me that the best thing I could do for the program is to take this job and go up there and do a good job,” Bierchen said. “Because it’s with the Chicago Blackhawks organization and its two steps for the NHL so it could get a lot of publicity for the Alabama hockey program.”

As far as finding a new head coach, Bierchen said there is no timeline for Alabama finding his replacement. Benedetto also added that the future of Alabama players who came to the program during Bierchen’s tenure is unclear. Alabama’s season will begin on Sept. 1 with a matchup against St. Bonaventure.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports