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UAH readying pitch for new league membership

Note: UAH interim athletic director Cade Smith was interviewed on March 11, before concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus had shut down the college hockey season and essentially the whole sports world. On March 19, Smith revealed that he tested positive for the virus but is recovering.

The UAH hockey program heads into the offseason with about as much uncertainty as it has ever faced.

What likely will be the WCHA’s final season is next season, and UAH is again looking to join a conference in 2021.

The Chargers had a dreadful 2019-20 season with a record of 2-26-6, matching the school record for fewest wins.

“We’re disappointed in not being able to win more games,” UAH interim athletics director Dr. Cade Smith said. “And we’re disappointed in where we are as far as a league affiliation. We’ve got to figure some stuff out.”

That makes this offseason absolutely critical. UAH will likely not go the independent route again as it did from 2010-12, when finding home games was a struggle.

The primary target is CCHA 2.0. The seven schools that are leaving the WCHA to form a new conference in 2021 announced on February 18 that they are resurrecting the Central Collegiate Hockey Association name.

From a distance perspective, the CCHA makes the most sense for UAH. The trick will be getting the CCHA to agree to accept a school that it was leaving behind in the first place.

“First off, we have to get an audience with them to some degree,” Smith said. “We’ve been working with Collegiate Consulting, who is working with different teams in that league. The information I’m getting from our consultant is that probably nothing is happening as far as getting an audience until the commissioner is named for that new conference.”

Collegiate Consulting is an Atlanta-based company that has worked on a feasibility study to bring varsity hockey to the University of Illinois.

On February 25, the league announced it was starting its search for a commissioner. It might be a few months before UAH can even get to make its pitch. It’s also unknown how the concerns of COVID-19 will affect the timeline.

UAH is also close to figuring out who would lead that pitch. Smith is a finalist to become the permanent athletics director at UAH. A decision on the hire could be soon.

Smith has not conferred with the consultants about what would UAH’s pitch would be, but he said there are some selling points.

“(The CCHA) is already somewhat set to have a bus league, so that’s probably a knock on us. But I really actually think that most of those teams like coming down here to play. They do play in a nice arena down here. I think we’re in a really good city that has somewhat of a market that some of them do not have. It’s easy to get to Huntsville to play.

“We invested some money (in the in-game experience) and I think it was better. Did it bring more fans? It has not brought more fans yet, but I would think that just the casual observer would have seen a difference this year than in previous years.

“As far as commitment to other resources, we’re already towards the middle of the pack on the way we spend money on hockey compared to the rest of them anyway.

“We bring a lot of smart student-athletes into a conference. The type of graduates that we produce I think would be attractive to them.”

Smith said the Executive Plaza multi-use facility, which would be the new on-campus home for the hockey team, should not be considered a factor. The project is still too much of an idea rather than a definitive plan.

One other option is the Atlantic Hockey Association. The AHA currently has 11 teams, 10 in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and one in Colorado (Air Force).

The closest school to Huntsville would be Robert Morris in the Pittsburgh area. RMU, along with Niagara and Army, were former members of College Hockey America along with UAH.

The AHA was cold to the idea of UAH joining in the last round of realignment in 2013, but may be willing to listen this time. However, the AHA might wait for Navy, which would have to upgrade their club team to varsity, to have all three service academies.

That’s not to say AHA wouldn’t consider expanding to 13 teams with UAH and Navy. And it would be intriguing with Huntsville’s military background having the service academies visiting regularly again.

Meanwhile, the WCHA is exhausting any option it has to stay alive.

“We’re still in communication with the two Alaska schools and the (WCHA) office,” Smith said. “They’re updating us on what they’re attempting to do, but there just aren’t many options.”

Season ends with loss to Bowling Green

UAH finished the 2019-20 season with a 4-1 loss to Bowling Green on Saturday at the Von Braun Center.

The Chargers end the year at 2-26-6, with a 2-20-6-1 record in WCHA play.

It was the final game at UAH for five Chargers: Austin Beaulieu, Connor James, Sean Rappleyea, Teddy Rotenberger, and Brandon Salerno.

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The Falcons outshot the Chargers 39-22. UAH goaltender Mark Sinclair had 35 saves.

Bowling Green (19-13-4, 14-10-4-3 WCHA) scored the first goal on the power play. Taylor Schneider skated in front of the UAH net and tucked the puck just inside Sinclair’s near pad with 11:15 left in the first period.

At the end of the first period, Bowling Green’s Sam Craggs puts Connor James into the boards and gets a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.

The Chargers didn’t score during the major power play, but did score a 5-on-3 power-play goal to tie the game after a multitude of penalties on both sides.

Beaulieu deflected Connor James’s shot past Zach Rose to tie the game at 1-1 at the 7:11 mark of the second period.

It was the sixth goal of the season for Beaulieu and sixth assist for James. Josh Latta got his team-leading 11th helper.

Connor Merkley’s night ended early after crunching Jacob Dalton from behind in the Bowling Green zone. Merkley received a five-minute major and a game misconduct with 8:43 left in the period.

On the ensuing power play, the Falcons regained the lead with two goals. With 5:39 left in the second, Brandon Kruse roofed the puck from Sinclair’s left to make it 2-1. Almost two minutes later, Connor Ford’s blast from the left point slid in to make it 3-1.

Special teams will be a focus for next season, according to head coach Mike Corbett. The Chargers finished with only a 7.9 percent efficiency on the power play, and a 74 percent efficiency on the penalty kill.

It was a mostly uneventful third period. The Falcons got an empty-net goal from Carson Musser with 59.8 seconds remaining for the final score.

UAH matches the program record for fewest wins in a season with two, set in the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons.

Corbett was frank about what needs to be done during the offseason:

“Frustrating year. It could have been a lot better than what we thought. We had a lot higher expectations than the way it ended. We’ve got to learn from it.

“We’ve got to get our guys to understand what this commitment thing is. Just our entire program. Get people to understand that it’s a privilege to play. Our seniors understand now. You don’t think about it until the buzzer blows, but it’s a privilege to play Division I hockey.

“We’ve got too many guys in this room taking it for granted, and it bothers me. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be around that. We have to clean that up. I’ll talk to our seniors afterwards and ask them, what do we need to clean up? They’ll have a say in what we do and the way we move forward.

“Everybody has a different button that needs to be pushed. And when you’re with them as much as we are, you understand what that button is, and if you can’t find that button, it’s time to move on. It’s time to find players who are going to represent this university the way we need them to represent it.

“I like the young guys, but we’ve got to get them stronger for games like this, for teams like Mankato last weekend. We’ve got to really do a good job in the offseason to get our guys stronger. They’re not going to grow, but they have the ability to get stronger and we have to push them to get stronger. That’s going to be our No. 1 focus this spring.”

Bowling Green rallies to top UAH in OT

UAH had a chance to win with a two-goal lead and another hot outing by Mark Sinclair, but Bowling Green rallied to stun UAH 4-3 in overtime on Friday at the Von Braun Center.

The Chargers had built a 3-1 lead over the first half of the game while withstanding another barrage of shots. UAH was outshot 58-17, and had a chance at victory thanks to a Sinclair’s career-high 54-save performance.

“(Sinclair has) made those games close, and you want better for him, without a doubt,” UAH head coach Mike Corbett said. “He’s gives us a chance to win and you want to reward him.”

UAH (2-25-6, 2-19-6-1 WCHA) will finish the season Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. with Senior Day festivities prior.

BOX SCORE

After they were shellacked at Minnesota State by a combined score of 18-0 last weekend, the Chargers showed some fight despite the shot disadvantage and built a two-goal lead.

“It’s easy to quit,” Corbett said. “It’s nice that they showed up and have pride in their performance and pride in the jersey and give these guys a run.”

UAH struck first on a nice goal by Ben Allen in the slot, his first of the season. Daneel Lategan gave him the feed from the left corner, and Allen went forehand to backhand to beat Eric Dop top shelf with 3:06 left in the first period.

Bowling Green (18-13-4, 13-10-4-3 WCHA) tied the game just 55 seconds into the second period, when Cameron Wright skated through the right circle and beat Sinclair high.

But the Chargers took the lead again almost halfway in the contest. Brandon Salerno, like Allen before him, was left alone with the puck in the slot on another feed from Lategan, and scored his third goal of the season.

Lucas Bahn got the second assists on both goals.

“Ben Allen’s line was dynamite tonight,” Corbett said. “They were probably our best line tonight and had the most energy, so I rewarded them with more ice time. We’re a team that over the course of time, that’s how it’s got to be.”

Tyr Thompson put UAH up 3-1 on yet another goal from the slot in front of the Falcon net. This time it was a rare power-play goal, assisted by Christian Rajic and Tanner Hickey, with 7:28 remaining in the second.

All three UAH goals came from down low.

“That’s why I say we have to get more pucks and bodies to the net, because there are not a lot of one shot goals any more,” Corbett said. “You have to get second chances. Goals are scored at the net.”

The Falcons trimmed UAH’s lead to 3-2 two minutes later on an Alex Barber power-play goal.

The Falcons outshot UAH 30-14 over the first two periods, but that wasn’t the end of it. BG got 17 more shots on Sinclair in the third before the Chargers finally got one a Dop with around 8:00 left in regulation.

Bowling Green tied the game at 3-3 when Will Cullen’s deflection of a centering pass easily gets by Sinclair with 11:14 left in the third.

In overtime, Max Coyle was called for a tripping penalty with 3:33 left, setting up a power play for Bowling Green. Barber was able to lift one over Sinclair to give the Falcons the victory.

“It’s the story of our season,” Corbett said. “We’re that close to being able to finish a team off. Just having that leadership in the locker room, that alpha dog who doesn’t let (giving up the lead) happen.”

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Five finishing hockey journey at UAH

The Chargers will finish the 2019-20 season this weekend at the Von Braun Center against Bowling Green. On Saturday evening, five players will skate off the Propst Arena ice as Chargers one last time.

Puck drop is 7:07 p.m. on Friday and 3:07 p.m. on Saturday. Senior Day ceremonies will take place before Saturday’s game.

Austin Beaulieu (forward, Coral Springs, Fla.) is this year’s captain, scoring 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points in 132 career games played. Beaulieu is a two-time WCHA All-Academic and is a two-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete. Career best: Scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, and an assist against Ferris State on Jan. 5, 2019, earning him WCHA Forward of the Week honors.

Connor James (defenseman, Wainwright, Alberta) has four goals and 17 assists in 93 career games. He has made the WCHA All-Academic Team twice. Career best: Scored two goals against Northern Michigan on Feb. 9, 2019.

Sean Rappleyea (defenseman, Sayreville, N.J.) has two goals and two assists in 34 career games. He is a three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete and WCHA All-Academic.

Teddy Rotenberger (defenseman, Huntsville, Ala.) has appeared in 11 career games, 10 this season. He is a three-time WCHA Scholar Athlete and WCHA All-Academic. Rotenberger is the eighth player from the Rocket City to play varsity hockey at UAH.

Brandon Salerno (forward, Toronto, Ont.) has 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 119 career games. Made the WCHA All-Academic Team twice. Career best: Scored two goals in a victory over Ferris State on Nov. 25, 2017.

Seniors group photo Doug Eagan. Individual player photos by Todd Thompson.