A winter storm hit the Tennessee Valley on Friday. Snow fell in the afternoon, changing to freezing rain by the evening, covering roads with a sheet of ice. Many roads were closed.
The Chargers played at the Von Braun Center that night, losing to Ferris State, 2-1. Some may question: Why did the game go on?
“What helped this past Friday was the fact that Ferris stayed at the Embassy Suites and that all our guys live less than four miles from the VBC and have to get to the rink early in game days,” according to UAH Director of Athletics Dr. E.J. Brophy. “This solidified the fact that we would have a hockey game.”
Essentially, if the opponent is here, the games will go on. This has been the way for over 30 years.
It’s common knowledge that our hockey opponents, unlike for UAH’s other sports, are not nearby. Some travel by plane, and/or have lengthy bus rides, as our boys know all too well when they go north to play. They can’t cancel or postpone on the chance that there might be snow or ice in Huntsville. Typically, they deal with worse winter weather conditions for their own home games during the season (although they are more prepared to handle it).
The announced attendance for Friday’s game was 833. Of course, as is standard practice just about anywhere in sports, that number includes season ticket sales, so the actual number of people in the stands was significantly less than that. Still, it was UAH’s lowest recorded attendance since Jan. 10, 1997.
When it comes to winter weather situations, though, the attendance doesn’t matter. We know the travel conditions are going to prevent fans from coming. All UAH can do is play the games and take the attendance hit.
Brophy added: “It was definitely bare bones regarding vendors, off ice officials (some could not get there due to icy roads), and volunteer help, but we pulled it all together and made it work. Our number one goal was to have a quality college hockey game and we achieved that goal.”
Fortunately, this situation is very rare, but it’s not the first time that winter weather in Huntsville and UAH hockey have crossed paths.
That game on Jan. 10, 1997? The attendance was 574, the lowest in UAH’s varsity hockey history, for a 9-0 win over Bentley. Primary cause: It snowed all afternoon.
I worked in the UAH sports information department at the time, and the dusting that covered the grass when I arrived at the VBC turned into a two inches when I left. While that in itself wasn’t much, like Friday of this week it had done a number on the untreated roads, making travel rather difficult. I lived in Madison, but to be safe I only went as far as UAH and stayed with friends on campus overnight.
That was also a Friday. I was back at the VBC the next afternoon to work the game as the Chargers finished a sweep of Bentley, 7-3. Attendance for that game was 1,007.
But nothing compares to what happened 30 years ago this month. On February 1, 1985, an ice storm dumped several inches of ice and snow, paralyzing north Alabama, knocking out power for days. Yet, UAH played two games against Notre Dame at the Von Braun Civic Center. This was during the Chargers’ last season at the club level. Longtime supporter Terry Long describes his experience:
It’s Friday morning, February 1, 1985. I’m attending a technical short course in Sarasota, Fla. My wife has declined to join me for the weekend because Notre Dame hockey is coming to Huntsville.
Someone calls me out of the lecture telling me that I have an emergency phone call. My wife is frantic telling me that there are five inches of ice on the ground and roads, more is predicted, 50,000 homes are without power in the city, the Notre Dame hockey team is already in town, UAH has announced that the game will be played as scheduled, and come home to take her to the game.
The officials and the Notre Dame team were staying at the Hilton [now the Holiday Inn], which is across the street from the arena. And, the main power lines for the core of the city came into a station about a block from the arena. Given that the participants could skate to one of the few places in the area with power, the game was going to proceed.
I grew up slightly north of here where people actually navigated on ice and snow in the winter. And, I had a vehicle equipped with studded snow tires and a positive-traction rear-end.
Being concerned about the damage that may be occurring to our property, I decided to try to get home. Knowing that jets probably wouldn’t be landing in Huntsville, I made my reservations on a commuter airline that flew Twin Otter aircraft into Huntsville. That was wise because the jet flights were all indeed canceled by the time I got to Atlanta. After arriving in Huntsville, I then found an intrepid van driver who took over an hour to travel the few miles from the airport to our flatland home on the west side of Huntsville.
Well, we made it to game. The sight from the front steps of the VBC of transformers continuing to create blue fireballs in the remaining areas with power is still memorable. The announced attendance was 154.
Johnny Robinson, a.k.a. Squiggy, was the referee. It was a great game. The final score was 7-7. At one point, there were five men from each side in the penalty boxes. And, there was even a goalie-goalie altercation at center ice. It was a true Squiggy game, for those who remember him.
UAH beat Notre Dame the following night 9-4 with 2,152 in attendance. After the games, Notre Dame coach Lefty Smith made a great sour grapes comment that we still quote. After first blaming “a few bad calls,” he chimed “goaltending does a lot to equalize a better team.”