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UAH readying pitch for new league membership

Note: UAH interim athletic director Cade Smith was interviewed on March 11, before concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus had shut down the college hockey season and essentially the whole sports world. On March 19, Smith revealed that he tested positive for the virus but is recovering.

The UAH hockey program heads into the offseason with about as much uncertainty as it has ever faced.

What likely will be the WCHA’s final season is next season, and UAH is again looking to join a conference in 2021.

The Chargers had a dreadful 2019-20 season with a record of 2-26-6, matching the school record for fewest wins.

“We’re disappointed in not being able to win more games,” UAH interim athletics director Dr. Cade Smith said. “And we’re disappointed in where we are as far as a league affiliation. We’ve got to figure some stuff out.”

That makes this offseason absolutely critical. UAH will likely not go the independent route again as it did from 2010-12, when finding home games was a struggle.

The primary target is CCHA 2.0. The seven schools that are leaving the WCHA to form a new conference in 2021 announced on February 18 that they are resurrecting the Central Collegiate Hockey Association name.

From a distance perspective, the CCHA makes the most sense for UAH. The trick will be getting the CCHA to agree to accept a school that it was leaving behind in the first place.

“First off, we have to get an audience with them to some degree,” Smith said. “We’ve been working with Collegiate Consulting, who is working with different teams in that league. The information I’m getting from our consultant is that probably nothing is happening as far as getting an audience until the commissioner is named for that new conference.”

Collegiate Consulting is an Atlanta-based company that has worked on a feasibility study to bring varsity hockey to the University of Illinois.

On February 25, the league announced it was starting its search for a commissioner. It might be a few months before UAH can even get to make its pitch. It’s also unknown how the concerns of COVID-19 will affect the timeline.

UAH is also close to figuring out who would lead that pitch. Smith is a finalist to become the permanent athletics director at UAH. A decision on the hire could be soon.

Smith has not conferred with the consultants about what would UAH’s pitch would be, but he said there are some selling points.

“(The CCHA) is already somewhat set to have a bus league, so that’s probably a knock on us. But I really actually think that most of those teams like coming down here to play. They do play in a nice arena down here. I think we’re in a really good city that has somewhat of a market that some of them do not have. It’s easy to get to Huntsville to play.

“We invested some money (in the in-game experience) and I think it was better. Did it bring more fans? It has not brought more fans yet, but I would think that just the casual observer would have seen a difference this year than in previous years.

“As far as commitment to other resources, we’re already towards the middle of the pack on the way we spend money on hockey compared to the rest of them anyway.

“We bring a lot of smart student-athletes into a conference. The type of graduates that we produce I think would be attractive to them.”

Smith said the Executive Plaza multi-use facility, which would be the new on-campus home for the hockey team, should not be considered a factor. The project is still too much of an idea rather than a definitive plan.

One other option is the Atlantic Hockey Association. The AHA currently has 11 teams, 10 in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and one in Colorado (Air Force).

The closest school to Huntsville would be Robert Morris in the Pittsburgh area. RMU, along with Niagara and Army, were former members of College Hockey America along with UAH.

The AHA was cold to the idea of UAH joining in the last round of realignment in 2013, but may be willing to listen this time. However, the AHA might wait for Navy, which would have to upgrade their club team to varsity, to have all three service academies.

That’s not to say AHA wouldn’t consider expanding to 13 teams with UAH and Navy. And it would be intriguing with Huntsville’s military background having the service academies visiting regularly again.

Meanwhile, the WCHA is exhausting any option it has to stay alive.

“We’re still in communication with the two Alaska schools and the (WCHA) office,” Smith said. “They’re updating us on what they’re attempting to do, but there just aren’t many options.”

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Five finishing hockey journey at UAH

The Chargers will finish the 2019-20 season this weekend at the Von Braun Center against Bowling Green. On Saturday evening, five players will skate off the Propst Arena ice as Chargers one last time.

Puck drop is 7:07 p.m. on Friday and 3:07 p.m. on Saturday. Senior Day ceremonies will take place before Saturday’s game.

Austin Beaulieu (forward, Coral Springs, Fla.) is this year’s captain, scoring 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points in 132 career games played. Beaulieu is a two-time WCHA All-Academic and is a two-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete. Career best: Scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, and an assist against Ferris State on Jan. 5, 2019, earning him WCHA Forward of the Week honors.

Connor James (defenseman, Wainwright, Alberta) has four goals and 17 assists in 93 career games. He has made the WCHA All-Academic Team twice. Career best: Scored two goals against Northern Michigan on Feb. 9, 2019.

Sean Rappleyea (defenseman, Sayreville, N.J.) has two goals and two assists in 34 career games. He is a three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete and WCHA All-Academic.

Teddy Rotenberger (defenseman, Huntsville, Ala.) has appeared in 11 career games, 10 this season. He is a three-time WCHA Scholar Athlete and WCHA All-Academic. Rotenberger is the eighth player from the Rocket City to play varsity hockey at UAH.

Brandon Salerno (forward, Toronto, Ont.) has 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 119 career games. Made the WCHA All-Academic Team twice. Career best: Scored two goals in a victory over Ferris State on Nov. 25, 2017.

Seniors group photo Doug Eagan. Individual player photos by Todd Thompson.

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Chargers fall 4-1 to Lake State in Canada

The frustration carried north of the border.

The Chargers lost to Lake Superior State 4-1 on Saturday at GFL Gardens in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.

UAH (2-22-6, 2-16-6-1 WCHA) barely avoided being shut out for the third straight game, scoring their only goal of the series with 1:16 left in the third period.

It was the Chargers’ first game in Canada since starting the 1994-95 season at the University of Windsor, although this was the first NCAA game for UAH in Canada.

Lake Superior State (10-20-4, 8-12-4-4 WCHA) clinched a spot in the WCHA playoffs with the win.

The Lakers kept Mark Sinclair busy again in this one, getting 15 shots on the junior. The Chargers only mustered four, but it was the same situation: No goals for either team.

But Lake Superior State broke through in the second period with three goals, the first regulation goals of the weekend by either side.

First, Ashton Calder scored on a breakaway with 9:01 left, ending Sinclair’s shutout streak at 126 minutes and 15 seconds.

It just snowballed after that. Jacob Nordqvist made it 2-0 two minutes later, and then Brayden Gelsinger made it 3-0 just 30 seconds after that.

Will Riedell added the fourth goal for the Lakers at 4:11 of the third period.

Tanner Hickey finally got the Chargers on the board with 1:16 remaining.

The Lakers outshot UAH 33-25 for the game. Sinclair finished with 29 saves.

UAH’s road winless streak is now at 21 games (0-17-4) going back to last season. The Chargers hit the road one last time next week at WCHA-leading Minnesota State.

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Sinclair stops 44 in UAH’s first scoreless tie

The good news is that the Chargers officially shut out the Lakers. The bad news is that the Chargers still couldn’t win.

The first scoreless tie in UAH’s 41-year hockey history occurred Friday in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, as the Chargers and Lake Superior failed to score in three periods and overtime.

BOX SCORE

The Lakers took the second WCHA point in the shootout, and even that took a while to see a goal. Yuki Miura had the lone tally in the fifth round.

Also historic was UAH goaltender Mark Sinclair. He is credited with his third career shutout, setting a new UAH record for saves in a shutout with 44.

The Chargers (2-21-6, 2-15-6-1 WCHA) matched a program record with their sixth tie of the season. However, they also extended their UAH-record road winless streak to 20 games (0-17-3) going back to last season.

Plus, UAH was shutout for the second straight game. The Chargers haven’t scored in the last seven periods.

UAH has been on the short end of these “extra point” situations following a tie a lot this season. The Chargers have only gotten two points once out of six opportunities.

Lake Superior State improved to 9-20-4 overall and 7-12-4-4 in WCHA play.

Game two of the series is Saturday night at 6 p.m. across the Soo Locks at GFL Gardens in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.

While the bulk of the Lakers’ chances were from firing away at Mark Sinclair, the Chargers’ chances were from Laker miscues on their end.

Sinclair’s glove was plenty active as he kept the Lakers off the board. The junior made 17 saves in the opening period. Mitens was on the spot on the chances he saw, stopping six shots.

The Chargers stepped it up in the second period while the Lakers looked off. But like the first, neither squad could dent the twine. UAH had 12 shots in the middle frame compared to 10 for Lake Superior State.

The Lakers dominated the third period with a 12-4 shots advantage, but once again Sinclair was big, including two stops in the final minute to force overtime.

Each team had one shot on goal in the extra period, but after five minutes the scoreless tie was official.

Each team had a 4-on-3 power-play chance in the 3-on-3 second overtime, but Sinclair and Mitens came up big late to send it to the shootout.

Jack Jeffers, Peyton Francis, Tyr Thompson, Brandon Salerno, and Connor Merkley came up empty in the shootout, the second for UAH this season.

Mitens had 23 total saves in his shutout.

The old UAH record for saves in a shutout was 39, which Mark Sinclair shared when he blanked Michigan Tech last season. The other holders were Derek Puppa (against Minnesota State in 1995) and Scott Munroe (against Robert Morris in 2005).

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UAH faces Lakers on both sides of the Soo

UAH (2-21-5, 2-15-5-1 WCHA) at Lake Superior State (9-20-3, 7-12-3-3 WCHA)
WHERE: Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (Friday); GFL Gardens, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada (Saturday)
WHEN: Friday, 6:07 p.m.; Saturday, 6:07 p.m.
WATCHFloHockey.tv (subscription)

The Chargers head to Sault Ste. Marie — both of them — to face Lake Superior State.

Friday’s game will be at the Lakers’ regular home at Taffy Abel Arena in Michigan. On Saturday, both teams will cross the border into Canada for the series finale.

It’s not the first time the UAH hockey team has played in Canada, though it has been a while. Back in the Division II era, the Chargers visited the University of Windsor to start the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.

The Chargers enter the series following a disappointing series with Alaska at home. Last Friday, UAH lost a 6-4 lead with five minutes remaining in the third period as the Nanooks got two points in a 6-6 tie. Then on Saturday, the Chargers’ offense went cold in being shut out 3-0.

UAH is eight points out of the eighth and playoff spot, currently held by Alaska Anchorage, with six games to go.

The Chargers may have dodged a bullet by not losing Josh Latta, who had a hand cut by a skate in the first period of Saturday’s game and didn’t return. The freshman leads UAH in both goals (seven) and assists (10).

The Lakers are in seventh place in the WCHA, seven points ahead of Alaska Anchorage. They are 3-2-2 in their last seven games, splitting last weekend’s series at Michigan Tech.

UAH will have to LSSU senior Max Humitz, who is tied for second in the WCHA with 17 goals this season. His 26 points is tied for fifth in the league.

This week in the WCHA: All times Central. Games can be streamed online via subscription to FloHockey.tv.

Friday, February 14
UAH at Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
#16 Bemidji State at #19 Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
Bowling Green at Alaska, 10:07 p.m.
Alaska Anchorage at #10 Arizona State, 8:05 p.m.

Saturday, February 15
UAH at Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Ferris State, 5:07 p.m.
#16 Bemidji State at #19 Northern Michigan, 5:07 p.m.
Bowling Green at Alaska, 10:07 p.m.
Alaska Anchorage at #10 Arizona State, 8:05 p.m.