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UAH hockey to play this season after reaching fundraising goals

After a furious fundraising effort over four days, the University of Alabama in Huntsville varsity hockey program will, as we say, charge on.

Thanks to a GoFundMe fundraiser, T-shirt sales, and a massive publicity campaign, UAH alumni were able to raise the $500,000 by the 5 p.m. CT Friday deadline set by the university to keep UAH hockey alive for the 2020-21 season.

“The total amount of more than $750,000 in private dollars will allow the Chargers to continue to compete at the Division I level during the 2020-2021 season,” according to a UAH statement. “This total philanthropic contribution is the largest athletic campaign contribution in the history of UAH.”

Last Friday, UAH announced that it was cutting the hockey program due to financial concerns exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, two of the program’s top alumni and benefactors, Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis, spoke with UAH president Dr. Darren Dawson, athletics director Dr. Cade Smith, and faculty athletics representative Dr. Brent Wren.

The UAH officials told Wolitski and Sofikitis that $750,000 would need to be raised by the close of business Friday for the university to resume the program.

The cause was championed across several media outlets across the nation and across hockey. UAH alumnus and Calgary Flames goaltender Cam Talbot contributed to the effort, as well as Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome.

Wolitski and Sofikitis will each contribute $125,000 to complete the $750,000 goal.

Dawson has committed funds from the university to cover the balance of the hockey team’s operations during the upcoming season. “We are thankful and gratified from the loyal support that has been demonstrated this week by the fans and alumni of Charger hockey,” said Dawson in the statement.. “We are hopeful that this support will translate into a sustainable funding model that will allow the UAH hockey program to rise again to high levels of success.”

Now that the Chargers will play this season, the next step is stabilizing the program for the long term.

In a “state of the union” call Thursday with hockey alumni and boosters, Wolitski and Sofikitis outlined a goal to establish a $2 million yearly budget, with 25 percent coming from the university and 75 percent from outside sources.

An advisory council of alumni and local business owners would help the university manage the hockey program. They must collaborate on a 5- to 10-year plan philanthropic funding model, establish the structure of the program going forward and help secure a place in a conference, specifically the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), which starts in the 20201-22 season.

The council would also utilize the alumni network to recruit corporate sponsorship, recruit fans, and support the student-athletes with opportunities after their hockey careers are complete.

“The university is fully committed to the upcoming season,” said Smith in the statement. “The university will work with the supporters of the UAH hockey program and a newly formed Hockey Advisory Board to develop a plan that will allow the Chargers to thrive in 2021-2022 season and beyond.”

“UAH is committed to building a world-class D-I hockey program with a permanent conference home that will allow the Chargers to continue past the 2020-2021 season.”

Hoof Beats: WCHA unveils uncertain schedule

Normally we would have a little fun this time of year talking about the release of the upcoming season’s schedule, but what is normal these days?

The WCHA unveiled its 2020-21 conference schedule on Wednesday, although it’s unknown when college hockey will actually be played again.

The COVID-19 pandemic still putting sports in America on hold indefinitely, so consider the schedule tentative.

WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson told the Bemidji Pioneer that the league is developing potential models in case adjustments are needed. The season may not start if schools are continuing distance learning into the fall.

Most of the WCHA schools released their full schedules, but UAH was not one of them. UAH is opting to wait for more certainty before officially releasing its schedule.

We do know some things about 2020-21, however. The Chargers would play 18 home games, with four non-conference games in addition to the 14 WCHA games. Twelve of the 18 at the VBC would come before Christmas.

The two non-conference teams visiting will be UMass Lowell and Omaha, both of which UAH visited to start last season.

With everything obviously subject to change, here is the 2020-21 UAH hockey schedule so far:

Oct. 9-10 vs. UMass Lowell
Oct. 16-17 vs. Omaha
Oct. 23-24 at Ferris State
Oct. 31-Nov. 1 vs. Alaska
Nov. 6-7 vs. Michigan Tech
Nov. 13-14 vs. Bowling Green
Dec. 4-5 vs. Bemidji State

Dec. 11-12 at Alaska
Jan. 1-2 at Lake Superior State
Jan. 8-9 vs. Minnesota State
Jan. 22-23 at Alaska Anchorage
Jan. 29-30 vs. Ferris State
Feb. 5-6 at Michigan Tech
Feb. 12-13 vs. Lake Superior State
Feb. 19-20 at Northern Michigan
Feb. 26-27 at Bowling Green

Latta transfers to Lowell: The Chargers lost their promising rookie from last season, and might see him on the opposing bench this fall.

Josh Latta, who lead the Chargers in scoring as a freshman last season, announced on April 22 that he was transferring to UMass Lowell.

Latta had seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 2019-20. Two of those assists game in the season-opening series at Lowell, which UAH lost 5-1 and 3-1.

If a new transfer rule gets passed by the NCAA, or if Latta receives a waiver, he could be eligible to play for the River Hawks this coming season. That would mean he would face his former Charger teammates on Oct. 9-10 at the VBC.

Recruiting updates: Aidan Flynn, a forward from Spring Hill, Tenn. who is expected to join the Chargers in 2021, is moving up to the AJHL. He signed with the Lloydminster Bobcats on Monday.

Flynn had 40 points in 53 games with the Nashville Jr. Predators last season.

On April 10, UAH got a commitment from Jacob Franczak to join the Chargers this fall. The foward from Edmonton scored 18 goals and 43 points in 53 games with Sherwood Park of the AJHL.

Franczak would be the third forward from Edmonton and Sherwood Park in this recruiting class, joining William Zapernick and Jarred White.

Speaking of Zapernick, the CBC did a feature on him and his friend, Brown University recruit Matthew Kinash, on how they are preparing for college hockey while self-isolating during the pandemic.

Long Island going D-I: In a move that took literally almost everyone in college hockey by surprise, Long Island University announced last week that it was planning to establish a Division I men’s hockey program to begin play this fall.

The timing raises many questions. Schedules for this season are essentially already done, and as stated before, it’s not a given that the 2020-21 season will start on time. LIU, which started a women’s hockey program last year, has no coach, no players, and no established place to play yet.