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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.

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Chargers release 2019-20 schedule

UAH will face challenges inside the WCHA and out this coming season.

The 2019-20 schedule was released on Wednesday. It will be the 35th varsity season for UAH and 41st overall, the 21st season of the modern Division I era and the seventh in the WCHA.

The schedule features 34 games with 14 at home and 20 on the road.

The Chargers open the season with two road non-conference series, Oct. 4-5 at UMass Lowell and Oct. 11-12 at Omaha.

UMass Lowell (19-13-5) finished fourth in Hockey East last season. The Chargers last faced the River Hawks around Thanksgiving 2011 in Lowell, losing 3-0.

Omaha (9-24-3) struggled to a seventh-place tie in the NCHC last season. UAH and UNO had a tough series in Omaha in 2014, with the Mavs winning 2-1 in game one and scoring late to force a 3-3 tie in game two. Omaha also comes to Huntsville in 2020-21 for the first time since 1998.

“Again we have a strong non-conference and all on the road,” UAH head coach Mike Corbett said. “The good thing is UML and UNO are the front end of home and home series. We have to do our part to help the WCHA and get some non-conference wins.”

Both UMass Lowell and Omaha return visits to Huntsville in the 2020-21 season.

The other non-conference series occurs Jan. 3-4 at North Dakota (18-17-2). The Chargers last visited Grand Forks at New Year’s of the 2015-16 season, when the Fighting Hawks won their eighth national championship.

WCHA action begins the weekend of Oct. 25-26 with UAH hosting league champion Minnesota State. The tough conference start continues the next weekend with a trip to Northern Michigan, which finished second last season.

“We have a very difficult WCHA schedule as we play four of the top five teams from last season four times,” Corbett said. “We are going to have to be prepared to play the top teams in the league, and compete hard. We will have our work cut out for us.”

Minnesota State hosts the Chargers on Feb. 21-22. UAH will play NMU all four times in November, facing off in Huntsville on Nov. 29-30.

The Chargers play third-place Bowling Green, their travel partner, and fifth-place Bemidji State, their longtime rival, four times. Bemidji comes to the VBC on Jan. 10-11, and BG finishes the regular season in Huntsville on Feb. 28-29.

The Chargers play three home series in the first half of the season, and four in the second half. UAH plays the last five weeks of the regular season, with three series at home for the stretch run.

2019-20 UAH Hockey Schedule
Home games in bold. * WCHA game.

All home games start at 7:07 p.m.

Oct. 4-5 at UMass Lowell
Oct. 11-12 at Omaha
Oct. 25-26 vs. Minnesota State*
Nov. 1-2 at Northern Michigan*
Nov. 8-9 vs. Alaska Anchorage*
Nov. 22-23 at Bemidji State*
Nov. 29-30 vs. Northern Michigan*
Dec. 6-7 at Bowling Green*
Dec. 13-14 at Ferris State*
Jan. 3-4 at North Dakota
Jan. 10-11 vs. Bemidji State*
Jan. 17-18 at Alaska Anchorage*
Jan. 31-Feb. 1 vs. Michigan Tech*
Feb. 7-8 vs. Alaska*
Feb. 14-15 at Lake Superior State*
Feb. 21-22 at Minnesota State*
Feb. 28-29 vs. Bowling Green*

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On-campus arena could transform UAH hockey

Charger hockey games on campus? Could this actually happen?

What has been a pipe dream for many UAH supporters may become a reality if the university’s master plan, presented to the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees on April 12, is approved in June.

UAH wants to develop 58 acres it bought in 2017. The land sits on the western side of Sparkman Drive across from the Bevill Center.

The development is student-focused, offering housing, grocery stores, restaurants, and other commercial amenities designed to give UAH a “college town vibe” similar to The Strip at the University of Alabama or Toomer’s Corner at Auburn.

At the heart, however, is a new multi-purpose facility that would be the new home for UAH hockey, basketball, and volleyball. The facility would also host events and contain a performing arts theater.

For UAH hockey, such a move would be a game-changer for a program that just seven years ago was on the verge of shutting down. It would be the surest sign of the university’s long-term commitment to the program.

With the new facility being in walking and biking distance (via a proposed pedestrian bridge across Sparkman Drive), more students could attend to give UAH hockey games more of that college atmosphere.

An on-campus home for hockey has been mentioned in five-year plans before, but this is the most detailed plan to date. Along with an actual artist’s rendering, this feels serious.

Still, it won’t seem real until there are shovels in the ground, and we’re a ways from that event. First, the plan must be approved by the UA System Board of Trustees, which is expected to vote on the plan during t its next meeting on June 6-7 in Tuscaloosa.

UAH chief of staff Ray Garner said on Friday that the project would take five to seven years to complete.

The multi-use facility could be funded by a private-public partnership, according to UAH president Dr. Robert Altenkirch.

The project has drawn rave reviews from Dr. Darren Dawson, who was unanimously approved by the UA Board to succeed the retiring Altenkirch. Dawson will take over as UAH’s ninth president sometime this summer.

UAH athletics director Dr. E.J. Brophy said the plans are in preliminary stages and it’s too soon to reveal further details and speculate its potential impact on Charger hockey and UAH athletics in general, but he said they are very excited.

The arena likely will be smaller than the Von Braun Center’s to better fit UAH’s needs. Other on-campus facilities in the WCHA average around 4,000 seats.

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Season ends with playoff loss to Minnesota State

The Chargers couldn’t get over the hump that is Minnesota State to extend their season.

UAH lost 4-1 on Saturday in Mankato, Minn., losing the best-of-three WCHA quarterfinal series in a sweep.

The Chargers finish the 2018-19 season with an 8-28-2 record.

Minnesota State (29-7-2), looking to lock down an NCAA tournament at-large bid, will host the WCHA semifinals next week.

BOX SCORE

The Chargers simply cannot afford to give the fourth-ranked Mavericks a head start on the scoreboard, but that’s what happened.

Jack Jeffers committed a high sticking penalty at 15 seconds, and Reggie Lutz slams home a goal on the power play at 1:44.

Minnesota State went up 2-0 at the 8:57 mark when Parker Tuomie deflected a Charlie Gerard pass past Mark Sinclair while driving to the net.

Hans Gorowsky, who had a couple of breakaways on Friday, had another late in the first, but once again he was denied by MSU goaltender Dryden McKay.

The Chargers did not help themselves with penalties in the second period, and MSU eventually extended its lead to 3-0 with another power play goal by Lutz, who had a wide open net with 5:35 left.

Minnesota State then pounced again a minute later, as Marc Michaelis, who scored two twice in game one, scored on a drop pass to make it 4-0.

And that basically was the death knell for UAH’s tough 2018-19 season. The Chargers had a rough 1-14-0 start to the campaign, but started to cobble some wins together in the second half to put them in the WCHA postseason.

With 9:44 left in the third, Adam Wilcox nixed the shutout with his third goal of the season, assisted by Connor Wood.

UAH had plenty of opportunities on the power play, but went 0-for-7 Saturday and 0-for-11 in the series. Minnesota State went 4-for-11 on the weekend.

UAH is now winless in the last 30 meetings (0-26-4) against Minnesota State dating back to 2002. MSU is 18-0-2 against UAH since the Chargers joined the WCHA in 2013-14.

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Mavericks take series lead on UAH with two major goals

Goals on separate major power plays were the difference as No. 4 Minnesota State defeated UAH 3-1 on Friday in the opening game of the WCHA quarterfinal series in Mankato, Minn.

Connor Merkley scored for the Chargers in the second period to pull within one, but MSU clamped down and held UAH to two shots on goal in the third.

Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 4:07 p.m. Central Time. The game was pushed up three hours ahead of a winter storm expected to hit southern Minnesota Saturday night.

BOX SCORE

Minnesota State (28-7-2) put the Chargers off balance at the start and it lead to the first goal of the game. A wide open Walker Duehr cleaned up a rebound, snapping the puck past Mark Sinclair at the 5:09 mark of the game.

That was the only blemish on Sinclair’s record in the period, as he made some clutch saves to keep UAH (8-27-2) within one.

The Chargers started to get their bearings as the first period wore on, and began to get a few looks on Maverick goaltender Dryden McKay.

UAH was dealt a blow early in the second period, when Andrew Dodson elbowed Jack McNeely near his face in a corner of the UAH end. After a lengthy video review, officials determined that it was contact to the head, ending Dodson’s night with a game misconduct and putting the Mavericks on a major power play.

Minnesota State would get one goal by Marc Michaelis about a minute into the five-minute advantage to take a 2-0 lead.

The Chargers withstood the rest of the power play, and then got three power plays of their own in the second. UAH would not convert, although they did allow the Chargers to keep the puck away from the high-powered Mavericks.

But UAH did eventually cut MSU’s lead to 2-1 with 3:32 left in the second. Connor Merkley poked in a rebound under McKay on Dayne Finnson’s shot up the middle for his third goal of the season. Madison Dunn earned his 10th assist of the season on the play.

Sinclair had to come up big to keep it a one-goal game at the second intermission, making big saves on Michaelis and Reggie Lutz in the final half-minute.

The Chargers did not give themselves much of a chance to find the equalizer early in the third period. Brandon Salerno had a hooking penalty, and after UAH killed that one, Kurt Gosselin drew a five-minute major (but no game misconduct) after his high stick hit the face of Lutz.

It was on the Mavericks’ second major power play of the night that Michaelis struck again with his second goal of the night and extended their lead to 3-1 with 14:34 remaining. Minnesota State was 2-for-5 combined on the man advantage.

After that, the Mavericks basically pinned the Chargers, who couldn’t get hardly anything going offensively. They also peppered Sinclair, who finished with 32 saves.

For the game, MSU outshot UAH 35-13.