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Season ticket sales drive under way

The next step in securing the long-term health of UAH hockey is building the season ticket base. A two-week season-ticket sales drive began Tuesday and will go through July 20.

For the first time, UAH hockey season tickets can be purchased online.

Reserved lower bowl season tickets will cost $242 and general admission upper bowl season tickets will cost $162 for 16 home games. This will include 14 WCHA games plus a non-conference series against Omaha to open the home season on Oct. 16-17.

Current ticket holders will get priority, and then new season ticket holders will get a chance to pick seats.

Buyers will have the option to donate their season tickets. They would be put in a pool that would distribute to local non-profits, veteran and military organizations, hospitals, and other service organizations supporting underprivileged families.

UAH students will still get into games for free.

If fans aren’t allowed in the VBC this season, or if the season is cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, season tickets purchased will be applied to the 2021-22 season.

The Save UAH Hockey Twitter and Facebook feeds will promote the season-ticket drive. For more information, email info@saveuahhockey.com or visit SaveUAHHockey.com.

Strong season ticket sales will show prospective conferences of UAH hockey’s commitment to long-term stability and growth. The Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Atlantic Hockey are possible landing spots for the Chargers.

Advisory committee announced: Save UAH Hockey revealed the members of the program’s new advisory committee on Monday, and it has a significant NHL presence.

The seven-member committee will guide and support the advisory board, led by prominent Charger alumni Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis, who will work with UAH athletic director Cade Smith on growing the hockey program long term.

The committee members are:

  • Sean Henry – President & CEO, Nashville Predators
  • Bill Wickett – Executive Vice President, Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Brent Flahr – Vice President & Assistant General Manager, Philadelphia Flyers
  • Cam Talbot – Calgary Flames goaltender, UAH alumnus (2007-10)
  • Paul Gierow – UAH alumnus and business entrepreneur
  • Joe Ritch – UAH hockey program founder and business entrepreneur
  • Ralph Drensek – UAH hockey alumnus (1985-89) and engineer
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Corbett resigns as head coach; West to be interim

Five days after the UAH hockey program was saved by a fast and furious fundraising effort, Mike Corbett resigned as head hockey coach on Wednesday.

The resignation was first reported by WAFF’s Carl Prather. In an email Wednesday morning to supporters, assistant coach Gavin Morgan announced the “end of his time” with the Chargers.

Assistant coach Lance West will be the interim head coach for the 2020-21 season. Director of operations Ryan McRae and equipment manager Damon Wheeler will remain on staff.

“We’re thankful for the time and contributions to our hockey program and university from both Mike and Gavin while they’ve been here at UAH,” UAH athletic director Cade Smith said in the UAH’s official release. “We certainly wish them the best in their future endeavors. As we move towards the future, we’re confident in Lance and look forward to his leadership and what he continues to bring to this program.”

Corbett led UAH hockey for seven seasons, hired as the team was entering the WCHA. The Chargers were 48-181-24 during his tenure.

UAH made the playoffs three times in those seven seasons, winning one game. The highest the Chargers finished in the WCHA standings was seventh in the 2017-18 season.

West, who played for the Chargers from 1991-95, rejoined the UAH program before the 2018-19 season. Prior to returning to Huntsville, he was the interim head coach at Alaska for the 2017-18 season, when the Nanooks had an 11-22-3 record.

West was passed over for the permanent job in Fairbanks in favor of Erik Largen. The Nanooks were 16-15-5 last season with many of West’s recruits.

West was an assistant coach at Alaska for 10 years prior to his one season as interim head coach, and was an assistant under Doug Ross at UAH before that from 2000-07.

West getting a chance to be the head coach was a condition of Corbett’s resignation, according an email Corbett wrote to supporters on Wednesday afternoon.

“I want to thank all of you for your support and supporting the players during this time. It meant a lot to me and them. I wish things were different and the results were better, I truly do. I own that. I will not make excuses and I will tell you I came to work everyday and put everything I had into it. Not always making the right decisions, but doing what I thought was right for the program every day. Myself and my staff embraced it and fought the good fight every day. Only we know how that was and it was difficult but continued to put the program and the players first.”

The last two weeks were a roller coaster for Corbett and his staff. On Friday, May 22, the hockey program was eliminated, with his staff getting a final 90 days. Corbett spent the days immediately following the announcement on the phones trying to find new homes for his players.

On Monday, May 25, after alumni boosters met with university officials, a goal of $750,000 was to be raised in four days in order to save the program. With over $550,000 raised on GoFundMe and T-shirt sales in that time, top boosters Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikits completing the balance, UAH announced on Friday that the program would continue.

West’s roster will certainly have a different look for 2020-21. Five players announced transfers to other schools, including last season’s leading scorer Josh Latta, four during the period after the program eliminated. The Chargers lost five players to graduation.

In the week the school announced the cutting of the program, the UAH hockey official Twitter account unveiled a six-player incoming class this fall. Two of them, Connor Szmul and Marty Westhaver, announced Wednesday that they was going to Long Island University to be part of its new program.

Meanwhile, the WCHA board of governors on Wednesday formally approved UAH’s return to the conference for the 2020-21 season. It’s currently expected that the 70th season will be the league’s last, with seven schools breaking away to form the new CCHA. UAH will be trying to join the new conference, which will start in 2021.

This story will update as more information comes in.

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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.”

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UAH to eliminate hockey program

The University of Alabama in Huntsville announced Friday the elimination of the hockey program after 41 seasons of competition.

The university cited budget restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a main factor in the decision.

“COVID-19 pandemic has forced the university to make difficult personnel and programmatic decisions,” according to the release, co-signed by UAH president Darren Dawson and athletic director Cade Smith. “Eliminating the expense of the hockey and tennis programs is a necessary step to ensure that UAH can continue meeting its core educational mission.”

The announcement comes rather sudden after the official UAH hockey Twitter feed revealed a six-player freshman signing class last week.

Men’s and women’s tennis will also be eliminated. The student-athletes for the cut programs were notified via email from UAH athletic director Cade Smith and video conferences with coaches and staff.

The program finishes its 35-year varsity history with a record of 456-570-82. The Chargers became a varsity program after six years a club team starting in 1979, winning the 1982, 1983, and 1984 national club championships.

The Chargers won two NCAA Division II national championships in 1996 and 1998.

UAH went back up to Division I shortly there after, winning two College Hockey America regular-season championships in 2001 and 2003. The Chargers won CHA tournament titles in 2007 and 2010, earning berths in the NCAA tournament.

It’s not the first time the program has been cut. In 2011, UAH announced the program would be relegated to club status, but a movement to raise funds and find a spot in the new WCHA in 2013 saved it.

However, UAH would reach no higher than seventh place in the seven years in the WCHA, with only three playoff appearances. The last season of 2019-20 was one of the worst in the program’s history. The Chargers went 2-26-6, tying the program mark for fewest wins.

This comes almost a year since the announcement that seven programs were leaving the WCHA to form their own league, which is now known as the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. That left UAH’s future uncertain and looking for a new conference when the WCHA breaks up after this season.

“We are deeply saddened by today’s news that Alabama Huntsville has eliminated its men’s ice hockey program,” WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said in a statement. “UAH has been a valued member of the WCHA since joining the league in 2013 and, as the first Division I hockey school in the Deep South, brought the sport to a previously untapped fan base for college hockey.”

UAH’s primary target was to join those seven CCHA teams, but now they won’t be around to apply.

UAH dropping hockey is the latest in a number of cancellations of athletic programs across the nation during the pandemic. Among those affected was fellow WCHA school Bowling Green, which dropped baseball, and Gulf South Conference affiliate school Florida Tech, which dropped football.

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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.”