Hockey: Alabama Names New D1 Head Coach
Like most people that are involved in the sport of hockey, new Alabama Division 1 hockey coach Phil Tesoriero got started at a very young age.
“My family is originally from Brooklyn and played a lot of roller hockey back there,” Tesoriero said. “Pretty much from when I was born — three or four years old — I was already on the ice starting to skate.”
To Tesoriero, hockey has always been a part of his life. Growing up in Colorado, he navigated youth hockey through juniors, playing for multiple teams in both the U.S. and Canada.
After finishing his time in juniors, Tesoriero shifted to college play, spending his freshman season at the University of Minnesota-Crookston. A small D3 school in the NCAA, Tesoriero then transferred to Davenport University, a larger school compared to UMC but still considered to be a small school with a student body under 6,000.
Upon graduating, Tesoriero moved back to his home state of Colorado and began playing for the Denver Cutthroats, a minor league team based in the state’s capital. He was a member of its inaugural team in 2012, but after just two season and despite having success, the team was pulled and Tesoriero was forced to move on.
“I ended up coming down to the south and started my semiprofessional career down in Pensacola,” Tesoriero said. “I played for Pensacola, Huntsville, Roanoke, Birmingham and then a little time in Knoxville before I decided to hang ‘em up.”
During his time with the Birmingham Bulls, Tesiorero discovered the Alabama hockey team, who shared a rink with the Bulls at the Pelham Civic Complex about an hour east of Tuscaloosa. Kyle Richards, the head coach of Alabama, played at Castleton University and had some former teammates who played with Tesoriero for Birmingham, so the duo quickly began to become acquainted.
“Around practice times or game times I’d see them around the rink or see them coming back from road trips and I would see them coming back around the same time,” Tesoriero said. “Head coach Kyle Richards knew some of the players I was on the team with. I played with a lot of guys from Castleton so it was kind of a crazy small hockey world to run into him and just being able to learn a little about Alabama hockey and I got to see a game or two in the afternoon before we played.”
Alabama Club Hockey being a D1 team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, Tesoriero was attracted to the program early on due to its similarities to his old program at Davenport.
When Tesoriero was approaching retirement from playing on the ice, Richards approached him about potentially coaching with him at Alabama.
“Kyle Richards said ‘we’re thinking about doing a D3 team and bringing it back,” Tesoriero said. “I had just got done playing, I was already working here in Birmingham over at the hockey rink. It was something we had talked about the summer before and I was like ‘well let’s wait and see until I’m done and then we’ll talk about it then’.
When it came time to retire after seven years of semipro hockey, Tesoriero decided to take the job and became the first coach of the new D3 team at Alabama in 2019.
“Things just started happening and pieces started moving and the team came to be and it all kinda happened quick last year,” Tesoriero said. “The team was announced and within two months we were already playing a game. It was quick.”
Tesoriero brought with him a new coaching philosophy and strategy to Alabama hockey, and his D3 team had what many would consider a successful season in its inaugural year. The team finished its first year 10-9-1, but remained optimistic with what they could build on for the future.
For Tesoriero, he was happy to be continuing to work the game that he loved.
“I think of the game a little different than a lot of the kids I played with,” Tesoriero said. “I always wanted to see how coaching would go. I definitely wanted to try it out and see if it was something for me. I had some pretty good success with the D3 team last year for a first-year back team. I thought we performed well.
“Obviously I wish we did a little bit better but at the same time for a team that’s just now coming back into the fold I thought they did great.”
In June of 2020, Richards announced that he was leaving the Alabama program to become an assistant coach as his alma mater, Castleton. With Richards gone, Alabama turned to Tesoriero and quickly hired him as the new head coach of the D1 team.
Despite now having been the new head coach for less than a week, Tesoriero feels good about his team for the upcoming 2020-2021 season.
“Coach Kyle left a pretty good group of guys there,” Tesoriero said. “He didn’t lose too many seniors and he’s got a good core coming back. Just getting everything going it’s pretty easy right now. I think after next year, the year after when that core group of guys is gone that’s when I gotta start looking a little harder for some players.”
With COVID-19 hindering players from seeing action on the ice and with no opportunities for players to stay in shape other than doing at-home workouts for the past several months, it has been difficult for players to stay on top of things.
That being said, Tesoriero isn’t discouraged by it and remains optimistic for the upcoming season.
“The talent is there with the team,” Tesoriero said. “There’s a lot of potential. It’s a very fast team. It’s a physical team when they want to be. It’s just trying to find what they’ve done in the past for success and trying to capitalize that and improve on that. Don’t come in there and completely throw everything out the window but at the same time bring in some structure. I think the structure will help settle a lot of uncertainty that happened last year but it’s a good group of core guys with some speed and I’m really excited to coach them.”
And how does Tesoriero feel about remaining in Alabama instead of his home state of Colorado?
“I don’t miss winter so much anymore,” Tesoriero chuckled. “I don’t have the skin for it. In all honesty, Colorado is a more fast-paced state. How things are done down here is a little more relaxed and at the same time you can get frustrated with it but I enjoy it.”