Press release: UAH Hockey program reinstated

The following is a press release from the alumni group that led the effort to save the UAH hockey program.

UAH Hockey Program Reinstated with Fundraising Efforts Led by UAH Hockey Alumni

Huntsville, Alabama – Alumni, UAH Hockey, and college hockey supporters locally and around the world successfully raised the funds needed to reinstate the University of Alabama in Huntsville NCAA Division I hockey program. A total of $870,022 was raised in four days – exceeding the goal by $120,000.

Sheldon Wolitski, Taso Sofikitis, and current NHL goaltender Cam Talbot (all UAH Hockey alumni and the program’s key boosters) want to thank UAH President Dr. Darren Dawson for the opportunity to keep the UAH Hockey program alive, and Ron Gray and the entire University of Alabama System Board of Trustees for their guidance and support throughout this process. Additionally, they look forward to working alongside UAH Athletic Director Dr. Cade Smith to build a consistent and competitive D-I hockey program that will bring national and international notoriety to the university.

“Securing the funding is the first step. We know there is more work ahead, and we are committed to creating a strategic plan to ensure the long-term success of the program,” says Wolitski. Wolitski and Sofikitis plan to look at the structure that was put into place between UAB and its alumni to save and transform the UAB football program as a point of reference.

Wolitski, Sofikitis, and other key advisors look forward to earning an opportunity to discuss UAH’s conference potential for the 2021-2022 season.

Funds were raised via a GoFundMe campaign and T-shirt campaign. As of 6:30 AM CT on May 30, the GoFundMe campaign raised $537,220 and $32,802 from the T-shirt campaign. UAH Hockey alumni donated an estimated $255,000 of that total.

Separate from the GoFundMe campaign, both Wolitski and Sofikitis contributed $125,000 each. Combined, UAH Hockey alumni contributed an estimated $505,000 to save the program. Sixty-five percent of UAH Hockey player alumni donated to the campaign as well as many former student-athletes’ parents, siblings, children, and family members. A special thank you to Derek Puppa, a UAH Hockey alumni, for his $20,000 donation and to an anonymous donor of $50,000 (separate from the GoFundMe campaign) in honor of Fred Hudson, a pioneer of youth hockey in Huntsville.

We would also like to thank Joe Ritch, the founder and first coach of the UAH Chargers Hockey team who built the very program that we fought for this week.

What started out as a grassroots effort to save our home team went beyond anything we could have imagined. The support we have received from the hockey community across the world has been nothing short of amazing. We did the unimaginable – TOGETHER AS A TEAM. And it’s as a team that we will move forward with the future of UAH Hockey.

# # #

The group would also like to thank people with ties to the NHL for their support of the cause:

Cam Talbot
Dylan Strome
Mark Recchi
Chris Mason
Brian Burke

Social Media:
Patrick Kane
Brandon Carlo
Paul Bissonnette
John Buccigross
Ryan Kennedy

NHL Radio:
Scott Laughlin
Gord Stellick


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: Fundraiser rally edition

The race to save UAH hockey has under two days remaining.

As of 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday, over $210,000 of has been raised through the GoFundMe fundraiser, and another $5,000 raised through T-shirt sales. The deadline to reach the $500,000 goal is 5 p.m. CDT Friday.

Former players Tony Guzzo, Matt Parker, Jared Ross, and Shane Stewart held a press conference at the Von Braun Center on Wednesday to give an update.

The program’s most famous alumnus, Calgary Flames goaltender Cam Talbot, has also chimed in.

“The program meant a lot to me,” Talbot said in an article on “I never thought that it would really kind of grow to allow me to live out my dream like I am now. I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity if I didn’t end up in Alabama.”

Long-term plans: A common question about the campaign is what would happen with the program beyond the 2020-21 season. Concerns are that it would be a short-term fix, leading to the same situation one year now.

The current answer to that is as part of the agreement, UAH would establish an advisory committee to help the university grow and manage the program in the long term. According to UAH alumnus and booster Sheldon Wolitski, in an interview on 97.7 The Zone’s Talkin’ Ball, The committee would:

  • Work to find, court, and secure UAH a conference, the obvious target being the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
  • Create a 10-year plan for the program, outlining goals, targets & milestones.
  • Develop a new marketing plan to increase attendance & community support.
  • Work on a plan for a smaller rink close to or on the UAH campus.

Transfers: Several Chargers went on the NCAA transfer portal after Friday’s announcement that the program would be cut. While many players are still looking for potential landing spots or waiting to see how the campaign turns out, two have decided to move on.

Tanner Hickey will be going to Arizona State. The defenseman scored three goals and seven assists as a freshman this past season.

Liam Izyk is transferring to one of the big programs in Boston College. Izyk was also a freshman, netting 11 points on three goals and eight assists.

More coverage:

Fast fundraiser established in attempt to save UAH hockey

This week will determine if the UAH hockey program can stay alive.

After Friday’s announcement that UAH was eliminating the hockey program, reaction has been swift, especially from hockey alumni who criticized the timing and the lack of transparency.

On Monday, after top benefactors spoke with UAH administration, including UAH president Darren Dawson and athletic director Cade Smith, a fundraising campaign has begun in an effort for the Charger hockey to continue.

To save UAH hockey, $1 million will need to be raised by 5 p.m. CDT on Friday, May 29 to continue the program.

A GoFundMe fundraiser has been established to raise half of it. If the $500,000 goal is reached, a group of donors willing to cover the remaining balance.

If this campaign is successful, an advisory committee of hockey alumni, local business leaders and major donors would be formed. This committee would advise Dr. Dawson and the athletic department on securing a long-term commitment to hockey at UAH and secure a spot in the new Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).

If the campaign is not successful, donations will be fully refunded.

For more information, follow the Save UAH Hockey Twitter account at @saveuahhockey.


Hoof Beats: Kestner, Saulnier contribute at ECHL All-Stars

Two UAH alumni participated in the ECHL All-Star Classic in Wichita, Kan., on Wednesday.

Both Josh Kestner of the Toledo Walleye and Brennan Saulnier of the Rapid City Rush were on the Western Conference team, which lost to the Eastern Conference 4-3 in the championship game.

The event featured four teams (Western Conference, Eastern Conference, and two teams from the host Wichita Thunder) playing a 3-on-3, round-robin tournament with a running clock and rally scoring. The teams were seeded based on total goals for the semifinals and championship.

Kestner scored a goal in the Western Conference’s first and third games, and one in the semifinals. Saulnier scored two goals in the semifinals. Bouth had a total of four points on the night.

Kestner also participated in the accuracy shooting competition of the skills challenge. He finished third out of four participants by hitting all four targets in 15.48 seconds.

Kestner has 42 points in 36 games for Toledo this season, leading the Walleye and putting him ninth in the ECHL. He’s tied for eighth in goals scored with 18.

Saulnier has 14 goals and 14 assists for 28 points in 36 games with Rapid City.

Forward commits: UAH received a commitment from Connor Szmul, a forward with the Chippewa Steel of the NAHL last Thursday (Jan. 16).

Szmul, rated 3.75 stars by recruiting site Neutral Zone, has 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists) with the Chippewa Steel of the NAHL this season. He’s a 5-foot-8, 155-pound left-hand shooter from Castle Rock, Colo.

While the Chargers got Szmul, they lost another forward recruit on the same day. Joey Baez of the NAHL’s Lone Star Brahmas switched his commitment to Army West Point.

Currently, UAH is expecting a six-member class joining the program this fall.