As a member of the Charlotte 49ers club hockey team the past couple years, Dave Kenehan was known as an intense defenseman and for his affinity to sacrifice his body to block shots.
This year, the UNC Charlotte graduate student is applying his defense-first mindset as the 49ers’ first-year head coach.
Kenehan, 25, is one of the youngest head coaches you’ll find in college club hockey. His appointment represents a sustainability with the Charlotte program that players and team leaders are proud of.
The UNC Charlotte club ice hockey team has come and gone over the years. Its current edition was formed in 2003 and in 2009 joined the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which governs all levels of college club hockey across the country.
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People like Kenehan and player/club president Jay Clericuzio have a passion for the program and volunteer countless hours every year to keep the team competitive. Coming off an 8-5 win over George Mason on Dec. 7, Charlotte’s record was 9-8. Five of the losses were by one goal, including two in overtime.
“We don’t have the skill we had last year,” said Clericuzio, a junior forward/defenseman who will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder blade injury. “But we have more discipline. People are more goal-oriented.
“Last year, we had high expectations. This year, we came in saying we’re going to beat teams with discipline and being mentally prepared, not by skill.”
A native of Warwick, R.I., Kenehan first played for Charlotte in 2008-09 as a sophomore. He played two more seasons and served as team captain before graduating with a mechanical engineering degree in 2011.
Kenehan followed the 49ers for a year while working for a military contractor in Charleston, S.C. He took a job transfer to Greensboro and moved back to Charlotte in 2012.
Feeling it was a good time to pursue his masters, Kenehan re-enrolled at UNC Charlotte. The ACHA allows players five years of eligibility so Kenehan rejoined the Charlotte hockey team in 2012-13.
The 49ers play in the ACHA’s Blue Ridge Hockey Conference at the Division 3 level, club hockey’s lowest skill level. They have advanced past the first round of the BRHC’s Colonial Division playoffs in each of the past two years.
Last season, Kenehan ruptured his spleen in an early-season game and missed more than half the season. He had one semester of playing eligibility left this year but he was more interested in coaching.
The team went through a couple of coaching changes over the past couple years and Kenehan asked to be considered for this year’s opening. Clericuzio was skeptical at first, knowing that Kenehan coaching former teammates might pose some challenges.
“We’re friends off the ice,” said Tyler Gyscek, a junior forward. “But when it comes to practices and games (Kenehan’s) all business. He expects our best effort. The transition was smooth because he’s been at it for so long.”
Kenehan’s dedication is proven by the daily schedule he follows. He commutes from Charlotte to work a full day in Greensboro, attends night classes at UNC Charlotte twice a week, and makes hockey practice twice a week with practices sometimes starting as early as 5:45 a.m. or as late as 9:45 p.m.
Like Kenehan, Clericuzio, 24, is older than most of his teammates. He spent a couple years in the U.S. Army before enrolling at UNC Charlotte in 2013. His leadership skills impressed previous team leaders and his teammates voted him club president last year.
Clericuzio and Kenehan have discussed the possibility of accepting a standing invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League, an ACHA D2 conference. It includes some of Charlotte’s rivals like UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, N.C. State, and Wake Forest.
“We’ve looked at D2 in the years I’ve been here,” said senior captain Trey Anderson, a forward from Apex. “In my opinion, it’s what is best. We’ll evaluate it and move forward.”