Zirnis named associate head coach

Another Charger alumnus is coming home.

Speculated but now official, Karlis Zirnis was named the associate head coach on Tuesday, joining Lance West’s staff looking to rebuild the UAH program.

Zirnis played for the Chargers from 1999-2003, helping them win two College Hockey America regular-season titles. His 119 career points is 14th in UAH’s varsity history and second in the school’s modern Division I era. He also ranks third in goals (46) and second in assists (73) in UAH’s modern D-I era.

Zirnis most recently was assistant coach at Alaska from 2018 to this past season. He joined the Nanooks right after West left after 10 years in Fairbanks as an assistant and interim head coach.

Before Alaska, Zirnis was the first head coach for the Shreveport Mudbugs of the North American Hockey League. His team won the 2018 Robertson Cup as NAHL Champions and he was named 2017-18 NAHL South Coach of the Year.

Zirnis is a native of Riga, Latvia. He was on the coaching staff for the Latvian team at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as well as the 2014 and 2015 World Championships.


West officially takes over as head coach

It didn’t take too long for the “acting” tag to be removed, as Lance West was named UAH’s head hockey coach on Wednesday.

After over 20 years in the business, West finally is a permanent Division I head coach.

“I have spent 18 years either playing or coaching with the program, and I am very aware of and share the passion of our alumni and fan base for UAH hockey,” West said in UAH’s press release. “The challenges that lie ahead are tough, but I am excited to work together with the young men, staff and The University that have committed to making this a successful program.”

West, who was an assistant for the Chargers the last two seasons, was named the acting head coach on June 3 after the resignation of Mike Corbett.

Since then, West has been rebuilding the roster, which has seen significant turnover since the May 22 announcement that the program was cancelled. Several players have transferred even after the program was reinstated on May 29.

One of the biggest transfers was revealed Wednesday. Michigan Tech announced that Mark Sinclair, UAH’s top goaltender the last two seasons, will play his senior season with the Huskies.

Sinclair is the ninth player to transfer from UAH, including six of the seven top point-scorers from last season. Including five graduating players, UAH has lost 14 players.

West has been busy finding players. So far, 12 have committed to play for the Chargers this fall (pandemic permitting). Only one, Ayodele Adeniye, was on this spring’s original recruiting class before the program was cancelled and reinstated.

West served as an assistant coach for UAH for seven seasons under Doug Ross from 2000-07. The Chargers won two College Hockey America regular season championships (2001 and 2003) and one tournament championship (2007) during that time.

Then West moved to Fairbanks, becoming an assistant with the Alaska Nanooks for nine years. He was the interim head coach in 2017-18, recruiting many of the players who helped the Nanooks earn a winning record last season.

West was a Charger winger from 1991-95. He scored 45 goals and 68 assists for 113 points, tying him for 15th in UAH varsity history.

West becomes the Chargers’ sixth varsity head hockey coach, and the first UAH alum to be head hockey coach.

Recent commitments:

Jonah Alexander, a forward from Toronto, was a first-team OJHL all-star after a 78-point season with the St. Michael’s Buzzers.

Josh Corrow is a defenseman from New Port Richey, Fla. He was most recently the alternate captain for the Whitecourt Wolves of the AJHL, notching 15 assists in 57 regular-season games.

Noah Finstrom, a forward from New Baltimore, Mich., spent the last two seasons with Jamestown of the NHL. He had 42 points in 54 games with the Rebels last season.

Quinn Green from West Chicago comes to Huntsville after back-to-back 39-point seasons with Topeka of the NAHL.

Michael Heneghan, a defenseman, had 37 points in 48 games with the Northeast Generals (NAHL) last season. Neutral Zone had him ranked 30th among uncommitted players born in 1999 and 174th in North America.

Derek Krall is a goaltender from Crofton, B.C. He had a .917 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average in 30 regular-season games with the Powell River Kings of the BCHL.

Nick Michel of Waconia, Minn. had seven goals in 32 games with Janesville of the NAHL last season.

Bennett Stockdale, a right wing from Ottawa, switched his commitment from Division III Geneseo to UAH. The alternate captain for Johnstown (NAHL) had 42 points in 50 games last season.


Editorial: No matter the goal, every season ticket sold helps

Like that Bernie Sanders meme, we are once again asking for your support.

It’s been about seven weeks since the UAH hockey program was allowed to continue thanks to a crazy week where over $750,000 was raised.

That was to keep the program afloat. Now the Save UAH Hockey group is helping UAH lay the foundation to develop a powerful Division I program and never again have to rally support just to keep it alive.

Buy or donate 2020-21 UAH hockey season tickets

The foundation includes a strong season ticket base, which will help convince the CCHA or Atlantic Hockey to take a chance on the Chargers because they are in it for the long haul.

Hence the season ticket drive, which started on July 7 and expected to go through July 20.

So far, over 300 season tickets have been bought and/or donated, which is already an increase from recent years but well short of the ambitious goal of 3,000 the Save UAH Hockey group has envisioned.

It’s understandable. It’s much easier to get thousands to simply pitch in $10 or so to immediately save the program than it is to get thousands to pay $162 or more and commit eight weekends heading down to the VBC.

It doesn’t help that the 2020-21 season is by no means guaranteed to happen because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The thing is, UAH need those season ticket sales now. While not hitting the 3,000-ticket goal won’t kill UAH’s chances of getting in a conference, the more sold the better.

And the sooner the better. UAH plans on discussing membership with the CCHA and Atlantic Hockey later this summer and, as they say in golf, post a number they cannot ignore.

Conferences begin preparing their schedules several months in advance, taking into account arena availability and existing non-conference commitments. You can bet 2020-21 schedules are already in the molding process.

If UAH wants to avoid being an independent, it needs to do this now. And this drive is to let those leagues know that the Chargers are in it for the long haul and can be a valuable asset.

Times are tough, but if you really want to help Charger hockey reach the next level and have the means, please consider getting season tickets, or donating season tickets if you know you won’t be able to go to the games should they happen.

If the pandemic cancels this season, the tickets will go to 2021-22. You will get hockey regardless.

Whenever you do come back to Charger hockey, the experience will be different. UAH and the advisory board are planning to make the experience at the VBC a lot more energetic and exciting, a lot closer to what you expect at a Huntsville Havoc game.

Plus, you can bet Lance West’s roster is going to be hungry. Expect an effort to be proud of every night.

More season tickets sold means more consistently larger crowds, which contributes to the experience further. There’s nothing like a big, boisterous college hockey crowd.

And the more season tickets are sold, the more of a cut UAH gets thanks to a renegotiated deal with the VBC. That’s more funds to put into a competitive program with designs on championships.

And then UAH can truly again be the “Hockey Capital of the South.”

There’s some excitement brewing with this newly restructured program. UAH hockey can be something truly special. This is another chance to be a part of it.


Season ticket sales drive under way

The next step in securing the long-term health of UAH hockey is building the season ticket base. A two-week season-ticket sales drive began Tuesday and will go through July 20.

For the first time, UAH hockey season tickets can be purchased online.

Reserved lower bowl season tickets will cost $242 and general admission upper bowl season tickets will cost $162 for 16 home games. This will include 14 WCHA games plus a non-conference series against Omaha to open the home season on Oct. 16-17.

Current ticket holders will get priority, and then new season ticket holders will get a chance to pick seats.

Buyers will have the option to donate their season tickets. They would be put in a pool that would distribute to local non-profits, veteran and military organizations, hospitals, and other service organizations supporting underprivileged families.

UAH students will still get into games for free.

If fans aren’t allowed in the VBC this season, or if the season is cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, season tickets purchased will be applied to the 2021-22 season.

The Save UAH Hockey Twitter and Facebook feeds will promote the season-ticket drive. For more information, email info@saveuahhockey.com or visit SaveUAHHockey.com.

Strong season ticket sales will show prospective conferences of UAH hockey’s commitment to long-term stability and growth. The Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Atlantic Hockey are possible landing spots for the Chargers.

Advisory committee announced: Save UAH Hockey revealed the members of the program’s new advisory committee on Monday, and it has a significant NHL presence.

The seven-member committee will guide and support the advisory board, led by prominent Charger alumni Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis, who will work with UAH athletic director Cade Smith on growing the hockey program long term.

The committee members are:

  • Sean Henry – President & CEO, Nashville Predators
  • Bill Wickett – Executive Vice President, Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Brent Flahr – Vice President & Assistant General Manager, Philadelphia Flyers
  • Cam Talbot – Calgary Flames goaltender, UAH alumnus (2007-10)
  • Paul Gierow – UAH alumnus and business entrepreneur
  • Joe Ritch – UAH hockey program founder and business entrepreneur
  • Ralph Drensek – UAH hockey alumnus (1985-89) and engineer

Hoof Beats: Restocking the roster

Recent events have the roster for the 2020-21 Charger hockey team getting a face-lift.

That’s to be expected after the program’s short-lived elimination. Returning players and incoming freshmen started to look for new schools to play for right after the announcement that the program was getting cut.

As of Thursday, June 11, six players on the roster have announced intentions to transfer to other schools: Josh Latta (UMass Lowell), Tanner Hickey (Arizona State), Liam Izyk (Boston College), Jack Jeffers (Lake Superior State), Max Coyle (Bowling Green), and Bailey Newton (Western Ontario). Latta, the Chargers’ leading scorer last season, announced his intentions to transfer before the program was cut.

The Chargers had announced a six-player incoming freshman class, but all but one, Ayodele Adeniye, changed their commitments to elsewhere. Three of them, Jacob Franczak, Connor Szmul, and Marty Westhaver, switched to the new program at Long Island University.

So far, UAH has received three new commitments, and they are showing tremendous upside (analysis by Asher Kitchings):

Conor Witherspoon, 5’11, 175, Metamora, Mich., Shreveport Mudbugs (NAHL) — The first recruit to commit to the Lance West-led Chargers this past Friday is just the kind of glue-guy we needed in this class. Conor is a well-liked, hard-working guy with a high hockey IQ who does a lot of the little things to help his team succeed. He’s quick to pucks and willing to go to the tough areas of the ice and be disruptive. More of a two-way, play-making forward, he was the second leading scorer on a defensively-strong Mudbugs squad, putting up a 52/5/30/35 slash line in his third full season of junior hockey. Conor will endear himself to the Charger faithful with his honest, all-around game. Conor was originally committed to Division III Norwich.

Tyrone Bronte, 5’10, 165, 1999, Melbourne, Australia, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (NAHL) — The first Aussie for the program was previously committed to arch-rival Bemidji State, but we’ll gladly take him off their hands. Bronte was a teammate of current Charger Adrian Danchenko’s in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and has played all over these past several years. He broke into elite youth hockey in Quebec, and then made stops in Ontario and Michigan before securing a spot in the NAHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2017-18 season, where – other than a cup of coffee with Omaha in the USHL – he’s been ever since. A playmaker, Bronte has good hands, solid speed and a quick, accurate release. One of the leading scorers in the NAHL before COVID-19 shut things down, Bronte was putting up more than a point per game with 12 goals, 36 assists and 48 points in 46 games played. West will want him to provide offense early and often next season. I doubt we’ll be disappointed. Look for him to bring the thunder from Down Under, folks!

Brian Scoville, 6’3, 215, 1999, Agawam, Mass., Langley Rivermen (BCHL) — Finally another defenseman to join Ayo Adeniye in this class, Scoville gave his commitment to West and UAH on Wednesday night. Scoville is a big, strong defenseman who was No. 27 on Neutral Zone’s list of the top-50 uncommitted 1999-born prospects. Like Bronte, he’ll have at least one familiar face in the locker room when he arrives in rising sophomore Daneel Lategan, a teammate of Scoville’s in Langley during the 2018-19 season. The western Massachusetts native has been on scouts’ radars for a long time, having been drafted by the vaunted Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL back in 2016 (quite an honor given how few Americans the QMJHL historically drafts) and previously committing to UMass (Amherst) as a freshman in high school. Extremely athletic, Scoville’s game has matured over the years, culminating in arguably his best season to-date in the BCHL with three goals, 21 assists, and 24 points in 53 games played (including playoffs). Along with Adeniye, he’ll bring some much needed size, strength and grit to the blueline next season. From the outset, these guys will be tough to play against. On top of all that, there’s more potential to be unlocked here, and it’ll be up to West and whoever his assistants turn out to be to unlock it.

Original Charger Bill Roberts dies: Bill Roberts, who played on the first UAH hockey club teams from 1979-82, passed away on June 6. He was 61.

Roberts, also known as “Big Bad Bill from Billy Goat Hill,” was the Chargers’ leading scorer in the inaugural 1979-80 season, scoring 70 points on 30 goals and 40 assists in 20 games. He had 88 goals and 138 assist for 226 points in three seasons, helping UAH win its first U.S. national club championship in 1982.

A graveside service will be at 11:00 a.m. Friday, June 12th, at Maple Hill Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Friends of UAH Hockey, c/o Bryant Bank, 320 Pelham Ave., SW, Suite 100, Huntsville AL 35801-5051.

Podcast talk: UAH hockey had a presence on podcasts this week.

Incoming freshman Ayodele Adeniye appeared on the Redvolution Rampage podcast to discuss race in hockey, the barriers for players of color and efforts to help grow the sport.

Charger alumni Cam Talbot, Karlis Zirnis, and Tony Guzzo went on the Running Poles Podcast to discuss how the program was saved.

UAHHockey.com writer Michael Napier appeared on the College Hockey SW Weekly show to talk about the history of the UAH hockey program, where it is now and what’s ahead.

New NCAA overtime rules proposed: Overtime rules are on the way to being simplified across college hockey.

On June 5, the NCAA men’s and women’s ice hockey rules committee proposed that overtime becoming 3-on-3 if a game is tied after 60 minutes.

Currently, all NCAA games go into a five-minute, sudden-death overtime period playing regular 5-on-5, with the result being a tie if no one scores. Most conferences, including the WCHA, have an extra overtime period of 3-on-3 to determine which team gets a extra point in the league standings. The proposal would bypass the 5-on-5 period in all conferences.

Also in the proposal, a three-person shootout could be used in conference games or for in-season tournaments to decide which team advances. Currently in WCHA games, a sudden-death shootout occurs if no one scores in the 3-on-3 overtime.

In regular-season non-conference games, the result of the game would be a tie if neither team scores in the overtime period.