In this week’s installment of 10 Questions With…, University of Louisville men’s ice hockey coach Brian Graham discusses coaching hockey below the Mason-Dixon line. A Wallingford, CT native, Coach Graham played and coached at the University of Kentucky before taking over the program at Louisville.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: First off, how does a Nutmeg native make his way all the way down to Louisville, Kentucky to coach hockey?
COACH GRAHAM: I actually transferred to University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY from a small school in Massachusetts in 1996, met and married a Kentucky girl. I tried to move her to CT in 2003, but she wasn’t a fan of the winter snow. In 2006 we moved back down to Louisville and it looks like I will be here for a long time to come.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: How long have you been coaching at Louisville?
COACH GRAHAM: I took over as head coach of the team last season (2011-12).
NUTMEG HOCKEY: What league does U of L play in?
COACH GRAHAM: University of Louisville plays in the ACHA Division 2. We are also trying to get ourselves into a conference for next season, as well, which will give us a chance to play for something while we are trying to get a regional tournament bid.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: Who would you say are your biggest rivals?
COACH GRAHAM: For our team the biggest rival is the University of Kentucky, which is also the team I played for in college and coached from 1999-2001. We also really get up for University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: What does typical week look like for a U of L hockey player, in terms of practices and games?
COACH GRAHAM: We practice twice a week on the ice – 9:30-11:00 PM every Tuesday and Thursday – and play two games every weekend. This years team has a total of 40 games scheduled. Practice starts the first week of school (September) and goes until the first weekend in March. If we were to make it to the National Tournament we would play until mid March.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: How has the 2012-2013 season gone so far?
COACH GRAHAM: We are currently 11-15-0-1. We are in the middle of building a program. We brought in a total of 15 new players this season and have also strengthened the schedule. I am very pleased with the way things are going and we believe we will finish the season above the .500 mark for the first time in team history. Last year we hit .500 right on the mark, going 15-15-1-1 and are trying to build off that. A strengthened schedule this year has definitely made things a bit more competitive for us.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between club (ACHA) and varsity (NCAA D1, 2, 3) college hockey?
COACH GRAHAM: The biggest difference is the funding from the University. Most schools do not receive much in the terms of financial assistance to run the program, the players are paying to play. The players are usually extremely dedicated to their programs, they work hard on and off the ice and do everything in their power to make their team competitive. There are no athletic scholarships involved; most players will not be moving on the next level after they graduate. The players are here to get a great education and to become professionals in something other than hockey when they leave here.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: Similar to the NCAA, are there academic and University eligibility requirements for hockey players at U of L?
COACH GRAHAM: Yes, to play ACHA hockey every student must maintain a 2.0 Cumulative GPA starting their 3rd semester of play. Also, all undergraduate students must be enrolled and pass at least 9 credit hours at the University and graduate students need to be enrolled in and pass at least 6 credits per semester.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: Scanning over your roster, it looks like you’ve got a few players from the Northeast – including three from Connecticut (Bill McNamee – Wallingford, CT/Sheehan HS; Sean Langrieger – Madison, CT/Hand HS; Kyle Hughes – Somers, CT/Tri-Town). Are you actively recruiting players from the area to come to Louisville?
COACH GRAHAM: I am, my hockey connections start in CT and they branch out from there. I am currently looking at few kids from up there and I will continue to go back home to find players. The state has a ton of great hockey players to choose from. Once the players make it out this way they are pleasantly surprised by how well they are treated and how much the south has taken to hockey. We are continuing to grow our crowds weekly. we expect there to be well over 1000 fans at our UK game on February 16th. That’s not too bad for a non-varsity crowd. We currently are averaging roughly 400-500 fans per home game. Being the only hockey team at the university we get the good crowds and get treated like a varsity program by the public and the students.
NUTMEG HOCKEY: If any potential student-athletes are interested in learning more about the U of L hockey team, who should they contact?
NUTMEG HOCKEY: Now that the NHL is back, who is your pick to win the Stanley Cup?
COACH GRAHAM: I have always been a Bruins fan and hope they can make things happen with this shortened season.
Thanks again, Coach Graham. Best of luck to you and the Cardinals the rest of the way!