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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.

Reaction to the cancellation of the UAH hockey program

Here is some reaction to the news that UAH is cancelling the varsity hockey program:

I have put 18 years of dedication into this sport through blood sweat and tears to play Division I hockey and that was ripped away from me. I no longer have a team to play for and am disappointed.

Ayodele Adeniye, incoming freshman

My initial reaction is to think about the kids. They made a commitment to the school, community and team and to have this decision slapped in their face doesn’t seem right. Plus to drag tennis into this is ridiculous.

What makes it worse for me is I coached several of the kids, from recent grads to commitments that are still a year or two away and guys in between. Naturally, the Preds and NHL are readily available for most to watch, at least on television, but UAH was the college team kids from Tennessee, Georgia and naturally Alabama could relate too, where they could really put their dream into a vision to drive them forward. This decision leaves a huge void for youth hockey in America now.

To the UAH hockey family, there have been a lot more sour days than great days recently, but anytime I was at the rink, regardless of the score, everyone always had a smile on their face. Our experiences together made my time as a player and fan so memorable and fortunately the trustees can’t take away.

I hope there is an opportunity to give the program a legitimate shot. Taso, Sheldon and others have been tremendous supporters of the team and more importantly the entire athletics department. For leadership to treat those pillars with very little regard makes writing this note a little easier.
Unfortunately, this horse has been shot at many times, hopefully these chargers are able to get out of the stable once again.

Cheers to Charger Hockey.

Steve Milosevski, forward (2000-04)

It’s hard to put into words how sad, angry, disgusted (and any other synonyms) I am with what has transpired with the University of Alabama-Huntsville president and athletic director in their move to disband the Chargers hockey program. It hurts because I was there at Day One, a summer afternoon in 1979 when it was announced UAH would have a club hockey program. It hurts because I played two years for the Chargers. It hurts because I know how much the community embraced the Chargers. It hurts because some young men – as recent as Thursday – were making plans to come to Huntsville to be UAH student athletes. It hurts because the 28 current players are having to find other schools if they want to continue playing collegiate hockey. And it hurts because the announcement came late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend, aka “Friday news dump.” There was no press conference even though eliminating the sole NCAA Division I program at a NCAA Division II institution is pretty important news – especially because of how the Chargers hockey team is part of the fabric that is Huntsville. Hell, the announcement was on a news statement halfway down the home page of uah.edu with the headline: “COVID-19 forcing UAH to take steps for more budget reductions”. There was no meeting with alums or community leaders to discuss options and alternatives to cutting the program. The administration cold-blooded axed a 41-year-old program that has produced the school’s only NCAA national championships – yes, two national championships; a program that brought national acclaim to UAH; a program whose alumni have become presidents and CEOs of national and international businesses; a program that saw its alums raise some $225K annually – no other UAH team comes near that. And now it’s gone. I can state that I am proud to be a former Charger hockey player and I am proud to call my former teammates and other former Chargers my brothers. But I am not proud of UAH, and that really hurts.

Bud McLaughlin, goaltender (1980-82)

UAH hockey has always been my Alabama football or Auburn football. Growing up here in Huntsville I was certainly an anomaly in the ’90s by being able to play for UAH hockey. I have always taken pride in the program and done my best to support it. For the administration to completely dismiss it every year for so long is just ridiculous. No program in the country has fought as hard just to exist as UAH hockey. Yhere are so many quality individuals that have been a part of this program in varying capacities (players, staff, volunteers, etc). 

I have many questions, but the first is why didn’t the administrators reach out to the alumni and boosters prior to making this decision? Did they not learn anything from 2012? Do they think we didn’t deserve the chance to try and save the program?  Sure maybe it isn’t possible but let us try. Everyone I know equates UAH athletics with hockey. That has to mean something, or maybe not.

Matt Parker, forward (1994-98)

Sad and disappointed to hear of the University’s decision to cut the hockey program at UAH. They gave me the opportunity to continue my playing career after juniors and the platform to achieve my dream of playing in the NHL. I wish all the students athletes affected by this all the best and hope they can find a new home to continue to follow their dreams of playing hockey at the collegiate level.

Cam Talbot, goaltender (2007-10)

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.

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Editorial: Widespread conference schedule exemption

It is time for a new exemption in college hockey: If you play in a geographically diverse conference, all non-Alaska members can play one home series each season that can be exempted from the visitors’ schedule maximum.

The Alaska Exemption

College hockey fans generally know about “the Alaskan exemption” if you schedule games at either Alaska or Alaska-Anchorage, those games do not count against your 34-game maximum, and as such you can schedule 36 games against Division I opponents.  For men’s ice hockey, the relevant section of the 2017-18 NCAA Division I manual is 17.13.5.3 Annual Exemptions, item (i).

(i) Hawaii or Alaska.  Any games played in Hawaii or Alaska, respectively, against an active Division I member institution located in Hawaii or Alaska, by a member located outside the area in question;

which is to say that UAA and UAF can’t exempt their four games against each other.

This rule exists to maintain NCAA member school viability in far-flung locales (Puerto Rico is often included in these exemptions despite its geographic proximity to Florida).  The thinking goes that a team that makes the trip to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico can then schedule an extra home game (or weekend), allowing it to recuperate some or all of the cost of the travel.  For the remote schools, it allows them to play a fuller Division I schedule without saddling them with a travel budget many times what their continental counterparts would require.

The Alaska Concentration

College hockey fans generally know that both UAA and UAF are in the same conference, which wasn’t the case as recently as five years ago, when the CCHA still existed and hated biscuits.  Now the WCHA has the worst far-flung travel schedule of all of the conferences, and it’s frankly not even close.  Behold:

Atlantic Hockey’s geographic midpoint is in Allegany, NY.

Atlantic Hockey Geographic Midpoint

The Big Ten’s geographic midpoint is in Climax, MI.

Big Ten Geographic Footprint

The ECAC’s geographic midpoint is in Rensselaer, NY.

ECAC Geographic Footprint

Hockey East’s geographic midpoint is Windham, NH.

Hockey East Geographic Footprint

The NCHC’s geographic midpoint is in Webb, IA.

NCHC Geographic Footprint

The WCHA’s geographic midpoint is Falcon Beach, MB.

WCHA Geographic Footprint

The Far-Flung Problem

The WCHA has all three of the longest road trips in the country: Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Huntsville.  Furthermore, all four Michigan schools are far from well-traveled airports, and Bemidji State is equidistant from Winnipeg and Minneapolis.  Only one WCHA member school — UAA — is served by a large airport with regularly scheduled flights capable of easily carrying a full hockey team and their gear.  If you travel to most any other school via air, you’ll be riding a bus for a couple of hours at minimum to and from the airport.  (Yes, this is true of Huntsville: despite being the conference’s largest metropolitan area, proximity to Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham means that HSV is pretty small.)

In theory, each non-Alaska WCHA school can exempt two games a season, and in some years, you get to exempt four. WCHA schools have had an issue getting home dates to make use of the exemption, largely nullifying the value of being in a conference with UAA and UAF.  The WCHA will have 63 (up to 65) non-conference games in 2018-19, and just 25 of those are at home.  The breakdown of those 25 games are: AHC (3), ASU (2), Bi7 (5), ECAC (2), HE (4), NCHC (9).  Just four of those (SCSU @ UAA 2x, CC @ UAF 2x) are exemption-sourcing games.

The availability of WCHA schools to schedule two or four extra games hasn’t proved to make it easier to get home dates.  Furthermore, the current constitution of the WCHA as the leftovers thrown into one western conference means that seven schools are saddled with the difficulties of traveling to three programs, costs that are difficult to offset without an incentive for schools to visit them (or to offer lucrative pay dates).  For the three eastern conferences: the three AHC games are with teams in the western half of the conference (MC, RMU); the HE trips are BU and Merrimack, and the ECAC trip is Cornell to NMU, which isn’t an arduous journey.  It’s telling that the two top-flight trips — BU-MSU, CU-NMU — are to teams at the top of the WCHA last season.

Proposed Solution

Simply put: Rather than a state-based solution, make it a geographic-based one.

  1. If you are at least 1,000 miles from your conference’s geographic center, you can award all visiting schools a one-series, two-game exemption from their schedule maximum.
  2. If at least half of a conference’s member schools are at least 500 miles from that conference’s geographic center, all non-Alaska schools can award one visiting school a one-series, two-game exemption from their schedule maximum.

The net effect of this proposal is as follows:

  1. Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville would additionally be able to enable visiting schools to exempt games as long as conference affiliations are in their current configuration.
  2. Atlantic Hockey and WCHA schools would become able to designate one home, non-conference series as eligible for exemption each season.
Rationale

If the goal is to increase the amount of teams playing Division I sports in general, including supporting programs outside of the traditional geographic footprints of those sports, schedule exemptions are a great way to increase travel to these far-flung member schools.  Adding Air Force and UAH to the list of schools that grant exemptions not only allows them to schedule more home games, but it allows members of their parent conferences to offset the costs of having a distant member in their midst.  The costs of travel to these distant destinations can be offset with a home weekend, but if your program struggles to get home weekends — and AHC and WCHA schools do — this gives you another arrow in your quiver.

Let us again consider this season.  Would WCHA schools be seeing just 18 games against top-four leagues, most of those between in-state teams that are long-standing foes?  If you’re Ohio State, don’t you consider a two-and-two rather than a one-and-one with BG because you could pick up another three home games out of the deal?  If you’re Western, don’t you try to play Ferris State every year?

Exemptions for all WCHA and AHC members allow them to get bigger schools to schedule them for games.  While these two leagues are pretty widespread, the hearts of each league are near hockey hotbeds, so getting exempt games generated locally will help these schools.

As for Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville, they both benefit greatly.

Air Force would cement its place in AHC, because it moving somewhere else collapses the league into a footprint centered on Binghamton, NY, one that takes the exemption away from all of those schools.  Air Force would be virtually guaranteed home games with in-state foes DU and CC every season, and it’s likely that some schools would make a Colorado trip and do single games with Air Force and either Denver or Colorado, using the exemption on the other in-Colorado game and keeping a home seris in pocket.

Alabama-Huntsville has historically struggled to get quality home opponents; its best such series came only when local boy Nic Dowd was a senior at St. Cloud and got Bob Motzko to bring him down.  A full-exemption home non-conference slate would likely see the team playing 18-20 home dates a season, which would greatly help attendance and send a message that Huntsville is a home for hockey.  UAH could even have seasons where its only road series were in conference play.

Atlantic Hockey members would benefit as well, as many of these schools are short bus rides away from HE, ECAC, and Bi7 schools, who would be much likelier to schedule road dates to those schools.

A Survey of the Distances of Each School to their Conference’s Geographic Midpoint

All distances courtesy of Daft Logic’s Distance Calculator.  They are direct-line distances between each and do not reflect road availability or travel times.

In short, four schools (Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska-Anchorage, and Alaska) are more than 1,000 miles from their league’s geographic midpoint, and two conferences (Atlantic Hockey, WCHA) have at least half of member schools playing at least 500 miles from the geographic center.

Atlantic Hockey (average distance 648 miles, standard deviation 333 miles)

  • Air Force, 1,398 miles
  • American International, 302 miles
  • Army, 239 miles
  • Bentley, 372 miles
  • Canisius, 763 miles
  • Holy Cross, 402 miles
  • Mercyhurst, 825 miles
  • Niagara, 769 miles
  • Robert Morris, 855 miles
  • RIT, 700 miles
  • Sacred Heart, 507 miles

Big Ten (206, 157):

  • Michigan, 82 miles
  • Michigan State, 55 miles
  • Minnesota, 431 miles
  • Notre Dame, 61 miles
  • Ohio State, 199 miles
  • Penn State, 400 miles
  • Wisconsin, 215 miles

ECAC (108, 52):

  • Brown, 132 miles
  • Clarkson, 153 miles
  • Colgate, 92 miles
  • Cornell, 141 miles
  • Dartmouth, 104 miles
  • Harvard, 136 miles
  • Princeton, 165 miles
  • Quinnipiac, 97 miles
  • RPI, 6 miles
  • St. Lawrence, 153 miles
  • Union, 15 miles
  • Yale, 101 miles

Hockey East (65, 59):

  • Boston College, 33 miles
  • Boston University, 32 miles
  • Connecticut, 84 miles
  • Maine, 195 miles
  • Massachusetts, 69 miles
  • Massachusetts-Lowell, 12 miles
  • Merrimack, 11 miles
  • New Hampshire, 30 miles
  • Northeastern, 32 miles
  • Providence, 68 miles
  • Vermont, 150 miles

NCHC (398, 183):

  • Colorado College, 586 miles
  • Denver, 563 miles
  • Miami, 584 miles
  • Minnesota-Duluth, 301 miles
  • Nebraska-Omaha, 126 miles
  • North Dakota, 358 miles
  • St. Cloud State, 185 miles
  • Western Michigan, 482 miles

WCHA (877, 733):

  • Alabama-Huntsville, 1125 miles
  • Alaska-Anchorage, 2207 miles
  • Alaska, 2138 miles
  • Bemidji State, 155 miles
  • Bowling Green, 804 miles
  • Ferris State, 623 miles
  • Lake Superior, 552 miles
  • Michigan Tech, 357 miles
  • Minnesota State, 387 miles
  • Northern Michigan, 425 miles
What about realignment?

Discussions of the effects of this proposal on realignment (or realignment on this proposal) might be done at a later date.

Improvement may stall unless UAH boosts program support

It’s been five years since the UAH hockey program found new life in the WCHA.

The program continues to improve on the ice. UAH had 12 overall wins this season, the best in eight years, and a program-high 10 wins in the WCHA. Since joining the league, the Chargers have improved their record each season, even if incrementally.

But there is a problem, and it starts at home.

UAH Avg. Home Attendance
2013-14 2,007
2014-15 1,921
2015-16 1,835
2016-17 1,601
2017-18 1,684

The Chargers’ average home attendance this season was 1,684, which was a slight increase from last season (1,601), but the second-lowest in the five seasons UAH has been a member of the WCHA. Attendance has not kept in line with the performance on the ice, as one might expect, but instead has slowly gone the other way.

The best weekend was the first against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 10-11, when the Chargers drew 3,128 and 3,072. That weekend was a combination of opening night, homecoming, and the popular Military Appreciation Weekend.

The Chargers won the first game handily 5-1, and needed a goal in the final second of regulation in a 3-3 tie. I noted at the time that it was entertaining hockey that could boost crowds for the rest of the season. But it didn’t happen.

After that first series, UAH drew above 2,000 only once, and barely at that (2,071 against Bemidji State on Jan. 26). That weekend against Bemidji was the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1998 NCAA Division II national champions, and it was the second best series attendance-wise this season. The Chargers had 1,989 the second night, when the players from the ’98 squad were honored.

The Chargers had six home games to finish the regular season, and only twice did they get above 1,500. The other home games from the first half of the season supposedly have to go up against college football, but the rest of the second half home games didn’t fare much better.

It’s not like the Chargers were playing badly at the VBC. They went 6-7-1 at home this season, one of their best home marks in a decade. UAH was able to take some wins against three of the top teams in the WCHA as well (and was 2:10 away from beating the best in Minnesota State).

It doesn’t have to be like this. Those 3,000-plus crowds against Anchorage? That should be the average, not the season high.

The average crowd at a Havoc game this season would be in the top 15 all-time for a UAH game.

Meanwhile, the Havoc shows that the market for hockey is good in Huntsville, drawing over 4,700 per game and setting the single-season SPHL attendance record. They are engaging the community at a pace that is leaving UAH in the dust. I don’t think UAH has to necessarily compete with the Havoc for fans, but UAH could do more to get a better share of hockey lovers among the half-million people in the Huntsville metro area.

To be clear, the hockey program is not in danger of being cut again. But now that UAH has re-established itself in Division I, it needs to take the next step, which is putting in the framework that will make the Chargers serious contenders for WCHA championships.

These are the things that the UAH administration, including athletic director Dr. E.J. Brophy and president Dr. Robert Altenkirch, need to figure out. (I offer some possible ideas, but there may be better ones offered by people more qualified than me.)

  • We need a better marketing plan. The only promotion that I know of is getting Blue Line Club members to post about an upcoming home series on Facebook, which is what UAHHockey.com has been doing. How visible is the team on local TV and radio? Or targeted online ads? UAH did commission a fan survey for hockey. I urge every Charger fan to partake in the survey if you haven’t already.
  • We need better promotions. This season appeared to take a step back compared to previous years. Most of the giveaways were hockey trading card sets, which doesn’t seem to be a good hook. The free general admission to kids 12 and under by Huntsville International Airport is always nice, but won’t matter much if parents aren’t drawn.
  • We need more variety in ticket plans. We need Friday-only and Saturday-only partial season ticket plans. Offer season tickets for general admission as well as reserved with a discount off the per game rate.
  • We need to expand the Blue Line Club. We need to reduce the minimum donation to join from $1,000, which appears to be by far the highest among WCHA booster clubs. Create a level for all season ticket holders. Perhaps add a special level for UAH students. Enrollment should be made online a la UAH’s current online giving program.
  • We need more student involvement beyond homecoming and the UAH Pep Band. We need the Blue Crew to put as much energy into getting students at and involved in hockey games as they put in for basketball.
  • We need our hockey games on the radio, just like our basketball games, which have been on WZZN (97.7 The Zone) for several years now. How does the university’s Division I sport not have this? It feels like a missed opportunity that the Havoc is getting some games on The Zone and not UAH.
  • We need better production value on WCHA TV. We need our primary camera better focused on the action and our second camera not just fixated on the UAH bench. We don’t need all the bells and whistles of a major TV network, but compared to the rest of the WCHA, the current production looks amateur.
  • We still need new banners, including our CHA titles and NCAA tournament appearances in Division I. We also need banners of Jared Ross and Cam Talbot, the two Chargers who have played in the NHL, at the VBC. These are things recruits look for and fans show pride in.

This is just for what we see on the surface. The program also needs boosts in its recruiting budget, academic support, and facility upgrades. These are things UAH is falling behind in compared to the rest of the WCHA.

Some strides are being made. The Doug Ross Suite at Spragins Hall is in planning and is expected to be ready by the fall, as well as a redesigned weight room. These projects were possible with the generosity of Charger hockey supporters.

Of course, extra financial investment will be needed. This is why growing the Blue Line Club, or season ticket base, and attendance is so important. This is where the fundraising prowess of Dr. Brophy and his team must come through.

If UAH is serious about calling itself the Hockey Capital of the South, it must find these solutions.