Hoof Beats: Summer pro signings continue

Cam Talbot is back in Alberta after signing a free agent contract with the Calgary Flames.

The Flames are the fourth NHL team for the former Charger goaltender, who turned pro in 2010. Talbot has a 138-112-24 record with a 2.60 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in 288 career NHL games.

Last season, Talbot had a 3.36 GAA and .893 save percentage in 31 games with the Edmonton Oilers before being traded to Philadelphia in February. He made only four appearances three starts with the Flyers.

“Coming here, I want to prove that I still have a lot of hockey left in me and there’s no better team to do it with than this one,” Talbot told the Calgary media on Saturday.

Meanwhile, other UAH alumni were signing minor-league deals.

Josh Kestner is returning to the AHL after signing a one-year deal with the Grand Rapids Griffins. In his first full pro season, Kestner helped the Newfoundland Growlers win the ECHL Kelly Cup last season with 22 regular-season and nine playoff goals.

Matt Salhany will return to the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL. Salhany, who finished his UAH career in 2017, scored 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 58 games.

Staying with Salhany in Adirondack is Hans Gorowsky, who signed a one-year contract with the Thunder. Gorowsky scored two goals in four games with the Thunder after 12 goals in his senior season with 12 the Chargers.

Tyler Poulsen has re-upped with the Rapid City Rush of the ECHL. In his first full pro season, Poulsen had 15 goals and 15 assists in 57 games.

On Tuesday, Brennan Saulnier also signed with Rapid City. Saulnier spent last year in Sweden, scoring 30 points in 11 games for Division 2 IFK Munkfors and seven points in 17 games for Division 1 Morrums GolS.

In the coaching ranks, Jay Woodcroft, who played for UAH from 1996-2000, agreed to a contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers through the 2021-22 season to coach their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. Woodcroft led the Condors to the Western Conference regular-season title and their first AHL playoff berth.

Corbett on bench for U.S. U-17s: UAH head coach Mike Corbett will be on the staff for the United States at the 2019 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament next month in Germany, USA Hockey announced on Monday.

Corbett will assist Alaska-Anchorage coach Matt Curley along with Ohio State’s Dave Caruso and USA Hockey’s Rich Hansen.

The Five Nations Tournament, which will take place in Füssen, Germany from August 12-17, will also include teams from Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany.

Teets named Academic All-American: Senior John Teets was named to the CoSIDA All-America At-Large Second Team on June 24.

Teets, who joined the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers after finishing his senior season with the Chargers, earned a 4.0 GPA majoring in finance.

Teets played all 38 games for the Charges this season, earning six points and blocking 55 shots.

UAH needs to be prepare for the WCHA’s looming demise

College hockey realignment is happening again. Is UAH ready?

On Friday, seven WCHA schools announced they plan to break away and form a new league that would begin play in the 2021-22 season, leaving UAH, Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage. Barring getting a handful of new members, the conference’s days are effectively numbered.

The “Runaway Seven” are tired of having to travel to Alabama and/or Alaska (sometimes twice) every year, even though UAH, UAA, and UAF were providing them subsidies. They are also tired of UAH and the Alaska schools dragging the league down, wanting to play with members who display “a level of institutional investment that demonstrates significant commitment to their hockey programs and facilities.”

It was inevitable, when you think about it. The current WCHA was a forced marriage of leftovers from the WCHA and CCHA following the formation of the NCHC, and UAH. Bowling Green is the biggest of the lot, the only full Division I university. This setup was going to tax budgets and schools were going to be unhappy.

UAH interim athletics director Dr. Cade Smith, who took over for E.J. Brophy last month, released a statement on Monday, saying the news came without warning and that the university is “committed to hockey, and we want to do what it takes to give our program what it needs to be successful.”

I do not doubt Dr. Smith, but the administration must step it up to make UAH attractive to potential conference suitors.

Last year, I wrote about how the UAH hockey program had improved since joining the WCHA, but risked stagnation without a proper boost in support.

I listed a number of areas of focus, from increasing marketing and promotions (a notorious problem), raising the recruiting budget, growing booster club membership, increasing student involvement, and improving media production.

Since then, the Doug Ross Hockey Suite and a brand new weight room opened last fall thanks to the generosity of UAH hockey supporters.

However, those same issues are still prevalent, especially compared to the many peers in the WCHA. And, whatever you think of his coaching record, puts Mike Corbett at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and reduces UAH’s image in the eyes of the WCHA and the college hockey world.

Going forward, UAH has the potential to be in good shape with the proposed multi-use facility that would be Charger hockey’s new on-campus home. However, that’s still just an idea that certainly won’t be ready by 2021 and it’s unknown whether the looming breakup of the WCHA will affect the project.

For now, UAH must expect to go above and beyond what was necessary to get into the WCHA in 2013.

A critical factor: Who UAH hires as its next athletics director.

Brophy is no longer the AD, being reassigned within the university. Smith, who is also the Charger volleyball coach, is serving as AD on an interim basis. UAH probably won’t hire a permanent AD until Brophy’s contract expires next year.

UAH might consider posting the position right away.

Dr. Darren Dawson, who recently became UAH’s new president, will be making the hire. Dawson succeeded Dr. Robert Alterkirch, who made the decision to save the hockey program in 2013 and was the proponent of the proposed new arena.

Optimally, UAH needs someone with administrative experience in hockey, someone who knows the college hockey landscape and has trust within it, and someone who will find innovate ways to raise funds, increase student and community involvement.

The current and future leaders of UAH athletics must see the potential and act on it.

UAH hockey simply can’t be an independent program again. In this round of musical chairs, just getting by isn’t going to cut it.

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7 schools announce plan to exit WCHA

Well, here we go again.

On a Friday afternoon news dump, seven WCHA schools — Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, and Northern Michigan — announced their intentions to create a new men’s hockey conference, leaving UAH, Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage behind.

The new league would begin play in the 2021-22 season, meaning the current WCHA would still play together in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

As of Friday evening, there has been no comment from UAH reacting to the announcement. WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said the league “will work to assure that any members that do withdraw do so in accordance with WCHA Bylaws.”

Even after the dust settled on the NCAA Division I realignment in 2013, when UAH joined the WCHA, rumblings persisted that conference shifting would happen again.

The primary reason for the change is in the second paragraph of the joint press release from the seven schools on Friday:

“They are like-minded in their goals and aspirations for the potential new league with a focus on improving regional alignment and the overall student-athlete experience while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint.”

In other words, they don’t want to fly to Alaska or Alabama all the time.

According to a source close to the UAH hockey program, former athletics director E.J. Brophy did not adequately support UAH as a member of the WCHA.

The source said trips to Huntsville are cheaper than to Minnesota or to and from Michigan for many of the seven teams that are leaving. Brophy’s administration also did not listen to staff warnings about the WCHA potentially breaking up and did nothing to prepare or manage UAH’s image as a league partner.

Brophy was reassigned earlier this month. Dr. Cade Smith has been named the interim athletics director, likely until Brophy’s contract expires next year.

The source indicated that UAH hockey should be OK in the short term, particularly if the program gets a WCHA payout once the seven schools leave. It will also help if the new permanent athletics director has hockey experience, which should be a priority.

The new A.D. will have to take the lead in finding a new conference home for UAH hockey. That hiring will fall on new president Dr. Darren Dawson, who took over from the retiring Dr. Robert Altenkirch this month.

The hockey program is in a more stable position than it was in its last conference search in 2012, after Altenkirch saved the program from cancellation after a grass-roots campaign. The WCHA unanimously accepted UAH on January 17, 2013 and started league play that fall.

UAH indicated a commitment to hockey in April by announcing plans to build a on-campus, multi-use facility that would be the new home for hockey, basketball, and volleyball.

The facility and the overall Executive Plaza mixed-use development, presented by Altenkirch to the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees in April, was added to the UAH master plan in June following committee approval.

That could help put UAH in position to promote itself to a league that could take them in, although the options are unclear at this early stage.

UAH could try to convince the seven schools who are planning to leave the WCHA that the Chargers would give their new league a nice even eight members. UAH could try to join another existing conference, but or a league that hasn’t been conceived yet. Anything would be pure speculation without a study of feasibility at this point.

At any rate, the future of Charger hockey is uncertain, but if UAH plays its cards right and gets the right people, the program can move forward and grow.

Development added to master plan; AD Brophy reassigned

The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees physical properties committee has approved the addition of the Executive Plaza mixed-use development to the UAH campus master plan. The approval came at the board meetings in Tuscaloosa on June 6.

The development would include a multi-use facility that would become the new on-campus home for UAH hockey, basketball, and volleyball.

“The next step will be to hire a master developer who will be responsible for recruiting companies and organizations to locate in the development,” according to UAH spokesman Ray Garner. “You can expect a development timeline of several years. The burgeoning Huntsville market will drive the types and pace of the development going forward.”

The development will move forward with a new athletics director.

Dr. E.J. Brophy, who was UAH’s A.D. since 2011, has been reassigned within the university. The news was first reported by WAFF’s Carl Prather.

Sources say the move was decided months ago. Brophy will remain with UAH until his contract expires next year. An interim athletics director has not yet been named.

No official reason has been given or announcement has been made. Brophy’s name has been removed from the UAH athletics web site.

Kestner a champion: Former Charger Josh Kestner helped the Newfoundland Growlers claim the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions.

The Growlers defeated the Toledo Walleye in six games, finishing the series with a 4-3 victory on June 5. Kestner had a goal and an assist in the clincher.

Kestner finished the ECHL playoffs with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 21 games.

The Huntsville native missed Game 3 of the finals after being hit in the head with an elbow in Game 2.

Teets named Academic All-District again: UAH defenseman John Teets earned his second Google Cloud Academic All-District At-Large Team honor on May 22.

Teets, who joined the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers after finishing his senior season with the Chargers, earned a 4.0 GPA majoring in finance.

Teets played all 38 games for the Charges this season, earning six points and blocking 55 shots.

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Chargers release 2019-20 schedule

UAH will face challenges inside the WCHA and out this coming season.

The 2019-20 schedule was released on Wednesday. It will be the 35th varsity season for UAH and 41st overall, the 21st season of the modern Division I era and the seventh in the WCHA.

The schedule features 34 games with 14 at home and 20 on the road.

The Chargers open the season with two road non-conference series, Oct. 4-5 at UMass Lowell and Oct. 11-12 at Omaha.

UMass Lowell (19-13-5) finished fourth in Hockey East last season. The Chargers last faced the River Hawks around Thanksgiving 2011 in Lowell, losing 3-0.

Omaha (9-24-3) struggled to a seventh-place tie in the NCHC last season. UAH and UNO had a tough series in Omaha in 2014, with the Mavs winning 2-1 in game one and scoring late to force a 3-3 tie in game two. Omaha also comes to Huntsville in 2020-21 for the first time since 1998.

“Again we have a strong non-conference and all on the road,” UAH head coach Mike Corbett said. “The good thing is UML and UNO are the front end of home and home series. We have to do our part to help the WCHA and get some non-conference wins.”

Both UMass Lowell and Omaha return visits to Huntsville in the 2020-21 season.

The other non-conference series occurs Jan. 3-4 at North Dakota (18-17-2). The Chargers last visited Grand Forks at New Year’s of the 2015-16 season, when the Fighting Hawks won their eighth national championship.

WCHA action begins the weekend of Oct. 25-26 with UAH hosting league champion Minnesota State. The tough conference start continues the next weekend with a trip to Northern Michigan, which finished second last season.

“We have a very difficult WCHA schedule as we play four of the top five teams from last season four times,” Corbett said. “We are going to have to be prepared to play the top teams in the league, and compete hard. We will have our work cut out for us.”

Minnesota State hosts the Chargers on Feb. 21-22. UAH will play NMU all four times in November, facing off in Huntsville on Nov. 29-30.

The Chargers play third-place Bowling Green, their travel partner, and fifth-place Bemidji State, their longtime rival, four times. Bemidji comes to the VBC on Jan. 10-11, and BG finishes the regular season in Huntsville on Feb. 28-29.

The Chargers play three home series in the first half of the season, and four in the second half. UAH plays the last five weeks of the regular season, with three series at home for the stretch run.

2019-20 UAH Hockey Schedule
Home games in bold. * WCHA game.

All home games start at 7:07 p.m.

Oct. 4-5 at UMass Lowell
Oct. 11-12 at Omaha
Oct. 25-26 vs. Minnesota State*
Nov. 1-2 at Northern Michigan*
Nov. 8-9 vs. Alaska Anchorage*
Nov. 22-23 at Bemidji State*
Nov. 29-30 vs. Northern Michigan*
Dec. 6-7 at Bowling Green*
Dec. 13-14 at Ferris State*
Jan. 3-4 at North Dakota
Jan. 10-11 vs. Bemidji State*
Jan. 17-18 at Alaska Anchorage*
Jan. 31-Feb. 1 vs. Michigan Tech*
Feb. 7-8 vs. Alaska*
Feb. 14-15 at Lake Superior State*
Feb. 21-22 at Minnesota State*
Feb. 28-29 vs. Bowling Green*