Coming from a tight-knit Italian family, it was a big deal when Carmine Guerriero left his native Montreal to play junior hockey in Hawkesbury, Ontario, about two hours away.
One can only imagine the reaction in the Guerriero household when the goaltender decided to head south, very far south, to play collegiately in Huntsville, Ala.
“When I told them I was going to play college hockey in Huntsville they were a little shocked about it and were not too thrilled,” he said of a move that was a 19-hour drive and slightly more than a 1,000 miles away from his family. “But everything has worked out well and they have been very supportive of me.”
UAH coach Mike Corbett brought Guerriero to the northern Alabama city of 190,000. After 10 seasons as an assistant at Air Force he accepted the head job in Huntsville during the summer of 2013.
Corbett learned about Guerriero through former Denver coach George Gwozdecky, whom Corbett played for at UD in the 1990s. Prior to being relieved of his post with the Pioneers after 19 seasons, Gwozdecky, who was also a candidate for the position at UAH, recruited Guerriero.
“When coach Corbett called me and spoke to me about Alabama Huntsville, to be completely honest I had never even heard of the place,” said Guerriero, a junior. “I did my research and was really excited to come down here. The weather is great and there is nothing like playing hockey in the south.”
Guerriero’s decision to land in Dixie has proven to be beneficial both on and off the ice.
“It is a small school, which is nice because we get to be on a personal level in the classroom with our teachers,” said the business management major. “That makes things a lot easier school-wise. All around it has been a great place and I do not feel it gets as much credit as it should.”
Guerriero has been receiving plenty of credit in goal. Though the Chargers have struggled during their first three seasons as members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association he was a nominee last season for the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goalie.
Though he was just 8-18-3, Guerriero had a goals-against average of 2.56 and a save percentage of .928 that was good for third in the conference.
“It was more of a shock to me than anything,” he said of the nomination. “I woke up one morning and my teammates were congratulating me and I was not sure why. I found out I was a nominee and it was nice to be recognized as one of the top goalies in the NCAA. It was a nice feeling.”
So was his effort last March 13 in the WCHA playoffs. The top eight of 10 conference teams make the tournament and the Chargers were No. 7 seed going against No. 2 seed Michigan Tech. In the first game of the best-of-three opening round he established a conference record with 76 saves in a 1-0 triple-overtime loss.
“I was so dialed in that game and I was playing with such a clear mind,” recalled Guerriero, who made 42 saves in a 3-0 loss the following night. “In my mind I knew nothing was getting past me. It was awesome for me to experience that game and it proved to me what I was capable of. It was a big confidence booster.”
Unlike many goalies, the lifelong fan of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens does not have any pregame idiosyncrasies, nor does he talk to his goalposts or anything of that nature during games.
“The whole thing about goalies being weird, I don’t feel I fall into that category,” he said laughing. “I do not have any pregame rituals and I try to stay away from all those superstitions because I feel that would distract me from doing what I need to do.”
Losing can be a distraction. The Chargers are in their 30th season of NCAA affiliation and have enjoyed stretches of success, though struggles have mounted in recent seasons. Since the start of the 2013-14 campaign when they began play in the WCHA they are an unsightly 15-76-7 through last Saturday.
Guerriero, who is 2-11-2 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage through his first 15 games this season, knew he would be part of a rebuilding program under Corbett. He has not allowed the number in the loss column to deter his commitment to the program and to bettering himself.
“If you look at the record it is obviously frustrating,” he said. “I cannot lie about that. But the great part is that it is a challenge for me and every game is an opportunity for me to keep my team in it. It is exciting to be a part of a program like this and for us to grow together.”