This one just wasn’t in the cards. As with last night, the Irish skated out to a 3-0 first period lead and then added two more in the 2nd. In all, the home squad peppered UAH goaltender Carmine Guerriero (1-11-0, 37SV) with 42 shots, while the Chargers mustered just 13 shots, all saved by Steven Summerhays (10-7-1, 13SV).
All weekend, we heard ND announcers talk about rebuilding, and let’s further that conversation just a little bit with some historical perspective. I think that we need that right about now.
UAH has played varsity men’s ice hockey since October 1985. In the first few years of the program, they played .500 hockey — in fact, the last time at .500 came when the Chargers defeated RIT on November 19, 1993.
From that point, the Chargers got as high as 132 games over .500, with the peak coming after a 6-1 win over Wayne State on February 25, 2006, a night where the boys scored five power play goals in eight opportunities, all by a unit of Bruce Mulherin (1-3—4) – Chris Martini (1-0—1) – Brett McConnachie (3-0—3) / Jeff Winchester (0-2—2) – Jeremy Schreiber (0-4—4). That’s an insane night.
That’s a blowout win that came against a team that no longer exists.
That was a conference game for a league that no longer exists.
UAH’s present woes aren’t due solely to Mac Portera and dropping players and scheduled games two seasons ago. UAH’s struggles don’t come from the CCHA kicking us in the teeth in August 2009.
No, they start before that, and the roots are in the instability of College Hockey America, UAH’s first D-I conference home. The league never made it past six teams, and two programs left (Army and Air Force, both for what is now Atlantic Hockey) while two programs folded (Findlay and Wayne State) and another was roped into being in our league (Robert Morris) to keep the membership number up. The CHA automatic qualifier bid was approved when UAH met the NCAA minimum of six teams. As membership dwindled to five and then four, we got grandfathered in around the rule, as the CHA was the only route for western expansion, given that the WCHA and CCHA seemed pretty stable.
But the CHA gave way, as Bemidji State found a home in the WCHA with the UNO Mavericks joining them. It seemed that UAH might replace the Mavs in the CCHA, but it wasn’t to be, mainly because the rumblings of the Big Ten Conference becoming real. That shift changed the landscape of college hockey, and frankly, it’s why UAH exists today.
So all the losing didn’t start when Chris Luongo became coach, or when Kurt Kleinendorst took over. No, it started because the CHA was an unstable league, and young men don’t want to base their collegiate choice on a maybe. They want to know that there will be stability, continuity, and progress. Starting back in probably the 2004 timeframe, you haven’t been able to sell UAH hockey to student athletes as a given: this is who we are as a stable and building program, this is the stable and growing league that we play in, and this is what we play for.
That blowout of Wayne State was a high water mark for the program to be sure, but the cracks in the foundation were getting wider by the day. Since that game, UAH is now 47-180-19 in its last 246 contests. That’s dreadful.
However, those games include both of the school’s NCAA tournament appearances. They include Cam Talbot’s entire UAH career. It’s a pile full of hard times, but we’ve gotten through it together.
So if you’re a long-time fan staring at 1-23-0 and wondering, “Why bother?” I respond, “You know where we’ve been. You’ve hung in this long. Keep hanging.”
To someone that only remembers the (second round of) D-I days, I say, “We saw the peak, and we’re going back down, but hang with us. You know the story.”
To current students and recent graduates, I say, “Do you see those banners? Do you see those NCAA tournament appearances? The championships came in times of stability, and the appearances came in time of strife. Don’t you think that we’ll do better in time?”
Don’t quit on the Chargers, because they won’t quit on you.
[This post isn’t possible without Michael’s work in diving throughout the history of the program to find those two inflection points. Thanks, Michael.]