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RBR Interviews Frozen Tide Head Coach Mike Quenneville

It wasn't always pretty, but Alabama fought their way to a physical, fast-paced 4-4 tie versus the Michigan State Spartans. We sat down with head man Coach Mike Quenneville to talk about program-building, recruiting, and much more. Some of his answers were surprising. Goal Tide.

Shelby County Reporter

First, a short bio (via the Frozen Tide's homepage)

A native of Massena, NY, Mike Quenneville played his amateur, high school and Junior College hockey in upstate NY. While attending the junior college at Canton ATC, he was selected as Team Captain, gained "ALL AMERICAN" status and also won the NJCAA National Championships. With a scholarship in hand, Quenneville transferred to Division 1, The University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1987.

While attending UAH, he was selected as Team Captain in addition to being selected to represent the U.S. in playing in the World University Games held in Sofia, Bulgaria. Quenneville graduated with a BSBA in Procurement Management in 1990. He became the Assistant Coach at UAH in the ’89-’90 season, rejoined the coaching staff as a Volunteer Assistant Coach from 1994-1998. During this time, UAH won two Division II NCAA National Championships. Coach Quenneville was the head hockey coach for Bob Jones High School in Madison, AL. He took the high school team onto win a State Championship.

Quenneville recently finished his 20th year volunteering in the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association where he coached teams ranging from Mites to High School. He has been a volunteer for USA HOCKEY since 1994 and has been named the Associate Coach in Chief for Southern Amateur Hockey Association (SAHA). He is in charge of setting up and conducting coaching clinics in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Coach Quenneville took the head coaching position for the University of Alabama prior to the 2010-2011 season. He is the third Head Coach in Frozen Tide history.

Roll 'Bama Roll's Q&A

Coach Quenneville, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. Let's start by having you make your best pitch to sell the sport to a football-crazy fan base.

Football is a contact sport and hockey is a collision sport. Hockey is a fast pace, high tempo, action-packed game. The players shift is 30-45 seconds at full throttle then they change on the fly or at a whistle.

It is a great combination of physical strength and strategy.

If you attend a live hockey game, you will be hooked.

Birmingham in particular seems to rally around this club. Given that most fans are in the metro, would the Frozen Tide be better off with an-campus rink, or is getting students in Pelham more the goal?

The city of Pelham has been awesome to work with and we don't see changing this relationship at this time. In the past we have set up bus companies to transport students back and forth but this is a cost to our program. Birmingham has a lot of the former Birmingham Bulls fans that loved their hockey. Today we are getting that support and it has been really good.

From a player standpoint, yes, a rink on campus is the best situation they could ask for. Today they travel via their own vehicle and pay their own gas up to 4-5 times a week. They are already paying out-of-state tuition. Playing hockey at Alabama and commuting to Pelham takes a lot of time and money.

Related, with the move the D1, have there been any discussions or exploratory plans for an on-campus (or near-campus) ice facility?

No talks at all. The players chose to go Division 1 not the school.

By now, most know that the Frozen Tide is moving from D3 club status to D1. However, the abiding majority of D1 programs are located in the Northeast/Rust Belt and along the Atlantic coast. What region will Alabama play in, or will the Tide be independent?

For the 2015-16 season, we will play Independent as we look to see which league is best for our program.

Is varsity status something that's actively being sought or worked towards? Or, is D1 ACHA-level hockey enough of a step up in weight class for the foreseeable future?

Not today. The school would be the group that would need to take the next steps towards NCAA Division 1. We would have nothing to do with it.

You played your hockey with the UAH Chargers, as part of the Chargers' first few scholarship classes. Prior to becoming a varsity sport, UAH hockey had been a national power at the club level for a decade. While the Frozen Tide do not have the same trophy case that the Chargers did, do you see any similarities between the trajectories of the two programs?

For sure, I think that the long term goal would be for the program to go NCAA Division 1, just like UAH did. Today, competing for a National Championship with a total of 160 Division 3 teams is pretty competitive. We have participated in Nationals 3 out of the past 4 seasons.

The Alabama Frozen Tide is not yet a varsity squad, and that surely represents some challenges in manning the program. How do you and your staff go about scouting and signing players to the team? Are there any scholarship workarounds etc. that you have to induce guys to move from, say, the Canadian juniors to Tuscaloosa?

We cannot offer Athletic Scholarships. We try to recruit potential Student Athletes the can receive Academic Scholarships. Our recruiting team extends from Coast-to-Coast with friends, family and alumni. We do attend different events when we can take vacation from our day jobs and when we can pay for our own trips. The staff are all volunteers.

Skeptics from hockey-native parts of the country frequently laugh off and dismiss myself and others for the notion that college hockey can be played at a high level and be a success in the South. It's not impossible, but there certainly are cultural and institutional barriers there. What challenges have you faced in building a championship-calibre team in the SEC (and particularly in Tuscaloosa?)

I have to disagree, Teams like Tennesse, Georgia and Vanderbilt have been playing college hockey for 30+ years. Look at UAH: The Chargers were NCAA Division 2 National Champions in '96 and '98. Get the word out that the University of Alabama has hockey and that they are a very competitive team.

The ACHA Division Three playoffs kickoff in Pelham March 10th - 14th. The field is set. What history does the Tide have with any of the squads?

In our bracket, we have played Michigan State twice, losing both games 5-2 and 4-3 up in Lansing Michigan. We have never played Colorado State or Pitt-Johnston.

Finally, you have our readers' ears. As Alabama makes this transition, and as the Playoffs are upon us, what support and resources do you and the team need most?

We need existing donors to athletics to contact University advancement and let them know that hockey is important to them. Alumni needs to let the Alumni Association know the interest exists. In general, the Tuscaloosa administration needs to hear from Tide Nation.

[Ed. Note: The Frozen Tide have a stated goal of $8000 needed for its transition to D-1. As of today's writing, the Tide is a little over halfway there. Please consider dropping by their kickstarter and donating a few dollars.]