Youthful Chargers raise talent if not expectations

Both the coaches and media have UAH finishing just out of the WCHA playoffs this season, picking the Chargers to finish ninth in the standings. The WCHA coaches and media polls were released Wednesday during the conference’s preseason teleconference.

The Chargers have a lot of freshmen on a club that won eight games last season and finished eighth in the league. That leaves a lot of uncertainty.

But UAH head coach Mike Corbett is high on this recruiting class, quite possibly the highest-rated since his tenure began in 2013.

“I like their speed, and we’ve also added a little bit of size,” Corbett said “We’ve got some guys in the 6-0 to 6-2 range that can get up and down the rink.

“There’s guys who have played a lot of junior hockey who can not only contribute in college hockey but also be leaders for our team.”

Returning players such as senior Austin Beaulieu and junior Christian Rajic will also provide that leadership, Corbett said.

Junior goaltender Mark Sinclair, who posted two shutouts last season, will be very important with several underclassmen on the back line. “It’s great when you have a guy back there you can trust,” Corbett said.

A more in-depth preview on this year’s Charger squad will come in the next two weeks. The season starts on October 5 with UAH visiting UMass Lowell.

Minnesota State was easily the top pick in both polls, getting all 10 first-place votes in the media poll and nine in the coaches poll (because coaches couldn’t vote for their own team).

The Mavericks won both the regular-season and playoff championships last season, and three stars from that team return to make the preseason All-WCHA team (player of the year pick Marc Michaelis, forward Parker Tuomie, and goaltender Dryden McKay).

Bowling Green was picked second in both polls, while there was some fluctuation from third to eighth place.

2019-20 Mankato Free Press WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll:
1. Minnesota State (9 first-place votes), 90 points.
2. Bowling Green (1), 82.
3. Bemidji State, 63.
4. Northern Michigan, 61.
5. Michigan Tech, 59.
6. Lake Superior State, 58.
7. Alaska, 39.
8. Ferris State, 36.
9. UAH, 30.
10. Alaska Anchorage, 20.

2019-20 WCHA Preseason Media Poll:
1. Minnesota State (10), 100.
2. Bowling Green, 89.
3. Northern Michigan, 72.
4. Michigan Tech, 68.
5. Bemidji State, 62.
6. Lake Superior State, 57.
7. Ferris State, 37.
8. Alaska, 27.
9. UAH, 26.
10. Alaska Anchorage, 12.

post

Season tickets, BLC memberships for 2019-20 on sale

Season tickets and Blue Line Club memberships are now on sale for the 2019-20 season.

Lower bowl reserved and ice-level suite season tickets are worth $208 for 14 home games.

A Flex Pack of 10 reserved tickets that can be redeemed at the Von Braun Center box office for any games you wish cost $120.

The Blue Line Club, UAH hockey’s booster program, has new levels this season. At least two season tickets with access to the VBC hospitality room are included with each Blue Line Club membership, which starts at $500. Higher levels include free access to coaches’ lunches, parking passes, and UAH President’s Council membership.

Kids 12 and under can become members of the Corbs Kid’s Club. For $30, kids receive a season pass, a T-shirt, a hockey team photo, and a schedule poster.

Supporters can order season tickets or BLC memberships in two ways:

Refer to the brochure for more information or contact Jason Rucker at Jason.Rucker@uah.edu or 256-824-6584.

The Chargers’ home opening series is on October 25 and 26 against Minnesota State. UAH opens the 2019-20 campaign on October 5 at UMass Lowell.

Recent home schedule changes: The series against Bemidji State has been moved from Jan. 10-11 to Jan. 9-10, with both games starting at 7:37 instead of 7:07. The Feb. 29 home finale against Bowling Green is now at 3:07 matinee start.

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.

post

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.