Air Force has won 20 or more games in five of the last seven years
A short conversation with coach Frank Serratore makes your pulse race a little faster. His enthusiasm and energy for Air Force hockey are that powerful.
As the fourth head coach in the 33 years of Air Force hockey, Serratore was in his office less than a week when he pointed out what it would take to turn the program around.
"We want to be the hardest working team in the country," Serratore said. "We want to have a team full of over-achievers. Not everyone is blessed with outstanding ability, but everyone can work hard and play with pride and spirit."
He could not have been more accurate in his prognostication. In his first season, Serratore's disciplined and aggressive style produced more wins than in the previous two seasons combined and the first 15-win season in three years. The first-year coach guided the Falcons to a 15-19 overall record. The season could not have ended on a better note as the Falcons swept Army at West Point.
His second season was no different as he guided one of the nation's youngest teams to the best winning percentage in four years at the Academy. The Falcons were 2-2 against nationally ranked teams as the team swept a two-game series from 18th-ranked Niagara. The Falcons also took control of the series with Army by winning two of the three games and tying once.
In 1999-2000, Serratore led the Falcons to the most wins (19) in 23 years and the first winning season (19-18-2) in 10 years. The Falcons won 14 Division I games, the most in school history. The Falcons placed fourth in the regular season (6-10-0) in the inaugural year of College Hockey America.
Serratore juggled an injury-riddled, and depleted, Falcon lineup throughout the 2000-01 season. The Falcons still posted a 16-17-4 record and the second-most Division I wins in school history (13). AFA claimed five CHA awards, including the player of the year (Marc Kielkucki) and the student-athlete of the year (Scott Bradley).
A great run at the end of the 2001-02 season capped a 16-16-2 overall record. AFA's eight-game unbeaten streak late in the season was the second-longest in the nation. The Falcons finished fifth in the CHA with a 6-10-2 record and upset fourth-seeded Niagara in the CHA Tournament. For the second straight year, the Falcons claimed the CHA Student-Athlete of the Year (Brian Gornick).
As he enters his sixth season with the Falcons, Serratore has posted an 81-89-10 record. His overall record in nine seasons as a college head coach is 130-180-19. In his five seasons at Air Force, Serratore has taken the Falcons to new heights. He is the only coach in AFA history to lead the team to five consecutive 15-win seasons. His 81 wins are the most by any Falcon coach in his first five seasons. Under Serratore, the Falcons have dominated the series against Army. Since his arrival, AFA is 9-1-1 vs. Army including six straight victories at West Point. Serratore, 44, came to the Academy from the Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League, where he was the director of hockey operations in 1996. He was the head coach and general manager of the Minnesota Moose (before they moved to Manitoba) in 1994 and 1995. He led the team to a 52-56-16 record in two seasons. In 1995, he led the expansion Moose to the IHL playoffs, where they lost to the eventual Turner Cup Champion Denver Grizzlies in the first round. That season, the Moose posted a 34-35-12 record, finishing just four points out of second place in the IHL's Central Division.
Prior to his position in Manitoba, Serratore was the head coach at the University of Denver from 1990-1994. During that time, he led the Pioneers to a 49-91-9 record in four seasons and is credited with rebuilding a struggling Pioneer program. In 1995 and 1997, Pioneer teams which were recruited during his tenure made two NCAA final eight appearances and placed third in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Serratore was responsible for improving an out-dated program. In his four years, he spearheaded the renovations to the DU Fieldhouse, the locker room, the weight room and player's lounge. He strengthened the relationship with alumni by exploiting DU's hockey traditions. The greatest success of his stint in Denver was the increase in attendance. In his first season, home attendance had dipped below 70 percent of the capacity. When he left, DU attendance was up to 93 percent of capacity, one of the top attendance marks in the country.
Before taking over the reigns at DU, Serratore was the coach and general manager of the Omaha Lancers of the United States Junior Hockey League. In one season, he took over a last-place team and led them to the USHL regular season and playoff championship. The worst-to-first Cinderella season earned Serratore the USHL General Manager of the Year and the Omaha Sportscasters Sportsman of the Year awards in 1990.
His other coaching experiences have been as the assistant coach at the University of North Dakota (1987-89), the head coach and general manager of the Rochester Mustangs (1985-87) and the Austin Mavericks (1983-85) of the U.S. Junior Hockey League. During his tenure in the USHL, he won three league championships and was runner-up twice while posting a 247-103-6 record. In 1987, he led Rochester to the USA Hockey national championship. While coaching in the USHL, he was named general manager of the year twice and coach of the year once.
Serratore attended Western Michigan University from 1977-79 before earning his bachelor's degree in physical education from Bemidji State University in 1982. He lettered four years in hockey at the two schools playing goalie. He then earned a master's degree in athletic administration/physical education from North Dakota in 1994. He played two seasons for the St. Paul Vulcans (USHL) from 1975-77 and had a brief stint with the Nashville South Stars (Central Hockey League) in 1982.
The native of Coleraine, Minn., is no stranger to coaching at the Olympic development level. He has coached at two USA Hockey Olympic Sports Festivals and has been the coach of the USA Hockey Development Program since 1985. In 1993, he coached the west team to the silver medal at the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival in San Antonio, Texas. He has also been active on the Hobey Baker Selection Committee, which annually selects the collegiate player of the year.
Serratore is married to the former Carol Samec of St. Paul, Minn. They have four children, twin boys Thomas and Timothy (13) and two daughters, Carly (12) and Carina (7).
Q & A WITH FRANK SERRATORE
Q: Late last season, the team had an eight-game unbeaten streak down the stretch. Will that be used as a building block for the 2002-03 season?
A: There is no question that we want to use the success we experienced down the stretch as a building block. I really like our team at this point, we have strong veteran leadership and our team chemistry is very good. In contrast to last year, I really believe that our team is starting the season ready to win. College Hockey America is a very competitive Division I conference. Proof of this can be found in the CHA's overall record versus the other five Division I conferences in the country. Competing in the CHA is, and always will be, a challenging endeavor for our program. In order for us to win at this level, a number of factors need to be in place. First of all, we need committed players who train hard and want to win at this level. Secondly, we need to have good team chemistry. And thirdly, we need to believe as a team that we can win. If all these factors are in place, I like our chances. Early last season, for whatever reason, our team chemistry was not good and we did not win. Later in the season, we were able to rectify the problem and went on a fabulous record-breaking run down the stretch. In my 20 years of coaching, I have never seen a team overcome bad chemistry and turn a season around. I attribute this solely to the character of the people on our team and their pride as a group not to fail.
Q: You played an instrumental role in creating College Hockey America. The fourth season in the CHA should be the most exciting with the automatic qualifier. What affect will the AQ have on the league and on the team?
A: As a league, the automatic qualifier validates the CHA as a bona fide Division I conference. In other words, we are now a fully vested member of the Division I community. I do not believe the AQ will have as much of an effect on the way we view ourselves as much as the way others will now view us. As a team, our goals will not change. However, with the CHA playoff champion now being seeded in the NCAA Tournament, the stakes have gone up considerably. As a team, we again want to be the most difficult team in the country to play against. We will strive to be the hardest working, toughest and most disciplined team in the country. Our season goals will again be to attain a winning season, continue our success against Army, and finish as strong as we can in the CHA regular season in an attempt to set up a run at the CHA playoff championship.
Q: Recruiting has always been a top priority for you and your staff. What challenges are involved with recruiting at the Academy and what type of player are you looking to bring to Air Force?
A: Recruiting is selling and good salesmen believe in the product they are selling. I believe this philosophy has allowed our staff to do a fine job in recruiting good hockey players to the Air Force Academy. Recruiting at the Division I level has become increasingly difficult over the last several years. There are more college hockey teams now than ever before. The challenges at the Academy are many. When I was at Denver, we were limited to 18 scholarships and it cost over $25,000 a year to attend school. Here at the Academy, we don't have the scholarship limitations or the money issues, but we have different kinds of obstacles to overcome. Aside from the high academic standards set forth by the Academy, our biggest challenge on the recruiting trail is overcoming the preconceived notions or misinformation that exists about the service academies and the military. We have found that once we identify the right type of prospects, it is important to get into their homes. After educating the prospects and their parents on the Academy, the response is usually tremendous. Recruiting here is not a "sell" job like at most schools, our approach is to educate and present all of the facts to a prospect. The opportunities offered at the Academy and afterwards are unlike anywhere in the country. When I first arrived at the Academy, I thought the post graduation commitment would be a deterrent. I have found that to be just the opposite. The post graduation commitment has actually helped our recruiting. Once educated, our recruits and their parents view the commitment as a positive rather than a negative. The career and educational opportunities available to our kids after graduation are astounding. It's merely a matter of how you choose to approach the commitment, as an anchor or a springboard. One needs only take a look at the successes of our graduates to know that it's truly a springboard. The type of player we are looking for is the classic overachiever; good student, good athlete, and outstanding citizen. Most of the young men we recruit possess the foresight and maturity to see the "big picture" and where they can be five or 10 years down the road. Finding good players for our program is a tough job, but a job that can be done. The fine young men in our locker room are living proof.
Q: Over half of last season's team was on the honor roll. That is an incredible ratio considering the length of the season and the travel involved with college hockey. How is it possible to maintain the balance between hockey and academics?
A: There are two main reasons our players are doing well in the classroom. First of all, we have a number of bright young men who take a great deal of pride in their academics. Secondly, an academic mentoring program, coordinated by Col. Cliff Utermoehlen, has kept our cadet-athletes ahead of the game by not allowing them to fall behind. The academic, athletic and military demands on our cadet-athletes are incredible. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, are student-athletes challenged like they are at the service academies. Our athletes carry 20 or more credit hours, participate in athletics and are required to perform a host of military duties. I am often asked the question, how do you inspire your athletes ... my response is simple, my athletes inspire me!
The Serratore File
Head Coach - Air Force Academy (1997-Pres.); record 81-89-10 Head Coach - Minnesota Moose [IHL] (1994-95); 52-56-16 Head Coach - University of Denver (1990-94); 49-91-9 Head Coach - Omaha (Neb.) Lancers [USHL] (1990); 49-13-0 Assistant Coach - University of North Dakota (1987-89) Head Coach - Rochester (Minn.) Mustangs [USHL] (1985-87); 89-34-2 Head Coach - Austin (Minn.) Mavericks [USHL] (1982-85); 109-56-4 * combined USHL record of 247-103-6
Playing Experience (Goaltender)
Nashville South Stars (CHL), 1982; Bemidji State, 1980-81 Western Michigan, 1977-79; St. Paul Vulcans (USHL), 1975-77 Greenway High School (Minn.), 1973-75
Master of Science degree, North Dakota, 1994 Bachelor of Science degree, Bemidji State, 1982
Collegiate Coaching Record
1990-91 6-30-2 Denver 1991-92 9-25-2 Denver 1992-93 19-16-2 Denver 1993-94 15-20-3 Denver 1997-98 15-19-0 Air Force Academy 1998-99 15-19-2 Air Force Academy 1999-00 19-18-2 Air Force Academy 2000-01 16-17-4 Air Force Academy 2001-02 16-16-2 Air Force Academy Career 130-180-19 (9 years)