AUSTIN, MN – It’s been quite a journey for Al Rooney over the past two years. From earning a Robertson Cup ring to coaching alongside an old friend, after thousands of miles traveled, he’s finally got his NAHL head coaching job. On Monday, the Chippewa Steel officially named Rooney the first head coach of their new franchise.
“It’s funny how life works,” said Rooney. I can go beating down the bushes looking for a head coaching position in this league and the right fit just hadn’t been there. I was sitting in my back yard mentally preparing myself for some off-day yard work when the call came with [Chippewa’s] interest and offer.”
The NAHL announced on April 30th, that Steve Black, of JB Black Enterprises, LLC had purchased the Coulee Region Chill and planned to relocate the team to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin – about 100 miles North of their former home in La Crosse, WI. They are the second “new” franchise announced by the NAHL in the previous month. An expansion franchise based in Odenton, Maryland was announced in Mid-April.
“I’m very grateful and excited for the opportunity to be the first head coach of the Steel and have the chance to not only build a roster that can compete and win on the ice, but also be in a position to establish the foundation for the culture of the organization moving forward,” said Rooney. “From everything I’ve heard so far, the community is real excited and behind the team so it should be a great experience for both the organization as well as the people of the area.”
Chippewa Falls is located just North of Eau Claire and is part of the scenic Chippewa Valley. It has a population of just over 14,000 as of the 2016 census.
Rooney, a former pro goaltender, has experienced much of the NAHL footprint over the past two years as part of the 2017 Robertson Cup Champion Brahmas as an assistant coach and onto Austin as Steve Howard’s associate head coach in 2017-18.
“My year in Austin has been very beneficial to me in the sense that I was once again surrounded by great people both on and off the ice,” said Rooney. “Steve Howard has done a fantastic job this season like I knew he would when I came on board with him. Assistant coach Keenan Kelly has helped push me as well – he puts in a lot of hours for this team to succeed.”
Rooney’s coaching journey has spanned twelve seasons, but only the last two have been in an assistant capacity. He has coached at the high school and Junior level in a head coaching capacity, most recently with the NA3HL’s Lone Star Jr. Brahmas, leading them to a 61-24-9 record in two seasons from 2014-16. He then joined the Brahmas NAHL staff.
“It’s been a different experience for me the last two seasons for sure,” Rooney said. “It’s definitely opened my eyes and shaped me as a coach as I move forward. But I am most comfortable as a head coach so I am excited to get back to being the guy who can lead the way and test myself in building a team to compete against some of the best coaches in the country. The NAHL is a fantastic league with phenomenal coaches throughout so I am anxious to begin the challenge.”
Rooney’s story is a good example of the unpredictability of life as a coach from a family perspective, and he discussed the importance of his support system:
“My wife Caryn is my anchor and so supportive of the ‘coaching life,’ which is not easy on families. I wouldn’t be where I am today with the support and opportunities afforded me by many people in my life.”
And included in that list of people is those he worked under the past two seasons.
“The ownership of the Brahmas and Bruins both gave me fantastic opportunities be a part of their organizations. When you consider the success of the two organizations, it’s something that is very humbling to be a part of, looking back on. Lastly, I am much more well-rounded, prepared, and experienced after coachingalongside Dan Wildfong and Steve Howard. Two class acts, unreal coaches, and even better human beings.”