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Season delayed as Chargers prepare and look for a league

The restart of Charger hockey is officially on hold because of COVID-19.

In a joint statement on Thursday, all Division I conferences announced that there will be a delay to the 2020-21 college hockey season due to the pandemic. Each conference will announce its own plans for the season, with the WCHA unveiling its revised schedule later in the fall.

“With 10 teams in five states, WCHA member institutions are currently operating under multiple state, local, university system, institutional and NCAA COVID-19 mandates,” the WCHA said in its statement. “Delaying the start of the season will provide league and member administrators the opportunity to continue detailed discussions regarding the implementation of a return to play plan that addresses the diverse guidelines all WCHA institutions must adhere to and recognizes the rapidly-evolving medical and safety environments that exist today.”

“It would be tough for us to play before January,” UAH athletic director Cade Smith said. “We’ll go with whatever the WCHA decides.”

Smith said teams traveling in buses and airplanes and going into locker rooms spreading the virus is the big concern.

Most fall sports at UAH and its primary league, the Gulf South Conference, have been cancelled. Charger basketball will not start before January.

The Huntsville Havoc, which shares the Von Braun Center with the Chargers, won’t begin their SPHL season until December. Venue limitations and capacity at the VBC will need to be worked out, Smith said.

“The University of Alabama system requires all athletes be tested every week, which is stricter than the NCAA guidelines,” Smith said. “How do we trace positives, how do we quarantine — these have taken much of administrative bandwidth.”

Smith said out of 150-160 tests this week, there were only eight positives. He feels that the protocols are working, and UAH head coach Lance West says his players are doing what needs to be done.

“The guys have been good at handling and protecting themselves and others,” West said. “They are preparing themselves as well as they can for when they can go.

“It’s been the hardest on the freshmen,” West said. “Their social interactions are limited and they are away from home. The veterans have been good at keeping them focused on what they can do as opposed to what they expected to do when they got to college.

“If you want to play, there are certain things they have to give up and choices they have to make.”

The Chargers are expected to have 13 freshmen this season, according to our commitment list, as West and his staff worked to build back the roster following the cancellation and restoration of the program. UAH is expected to announce the full roster soon once everyone has been cleared.

“That’s just the situation we were dealt,” West said. “We accepted the challenge together and found a way to get it done. You’ll see a team of hungry guys with something to prove.

“Everyone has a piece of where we’re headed. We will empower the guys that will set the tone for the future of the program. When we hit the ice, we will have the old-school, simple mentality of getting better every day.”

Meanwhile, the search for a conference home for the 2021-22 season continues. The primary target is now the Atlantic Hockey Association.

“I had a good call with the commissioner of the AHA (Robert DeGregorio, Jr.) about a month ago,” Smith said. “He laid out everything. I sent him a letter of interest, trying to gain an audience with their league about the application process.”

Atlantic Hockey currently has 11 teams, meaning UAH could become the 12th.

Smith says we could know by the time the Chargers play their first game this season, whenever that is, whether UAH has landed a spot in the conference.

The other option, the Central Collegiate Athletic Association, is now a long-shot at best. The CCHA announced the addition of the St. Paul-based University of St. Thomas as its eighth team on July 29, and it appears the new conference, comprising of seven WCHA programs, will be satisfied with eight entering its first season in 2021-22.

Hoof Beats: UAH announced the addition of former Charger goaltender Carmine Guerriero to the staff last Friday.

Guerriero played in 77 games for the Chargers from 2013-17. His .910 career save percentage was second best in UAH’s modern Division I era and fourth best all-time. His 3.19 career goals against average was fifth best in the D-I era and ninth all-time.

Last season, Guerriero was a volunteer goaltending coach at St. Lawrence.

Another former UAH netminder, Scott Munroe, has been named a player development coach at Total Package Hockey of Phoenix. Munroe, who played at UAH from 2002-2006, is the schools all-time leader in save percentage (.918) and helped the Chargers win the College Hockey America regular-season title in 2003.

Around the WCHA: Alaska Anchorage was given a chance to save its program after the Board of Regents voted Thursday to cut it following this season. The Seawolves must raise $3 million — two years of operating expenses — by February for the Board to consider reinstating the team. … The Alaska Nanooks team was quarantined as of August 30 after a player tested positive for COVID-19 following an on-campus gathering.

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West officially takes over as head coach

It didn’t take too long for the “acting” tag to be removed, as Lance West was named UAH’s head hockey coach on Wednesday.

After over 20 years in the business, West finally is a permanent Division I head coach.

“I have spent 18 years either playing or coaching with the program, and I am very aware of and share the passion of our alumni and fan base for UAH hockey,” West said in UAH’s press release. “The challenges that lie ahead are tough, but I am excited to work together with the young men, staff and The University that have committed to making this a successful program.”

West, who was an assistant for the Chargers the last two seasons, was named the acting head coach on June 3 after the resignation of Mike Corbett.

Since then, West has been rebuilding the roster, which has seen significant turnover since the May 22 announcement that the program was cancelled. Several players have transferred even after the program was reinstated on May 29.

One of the biggest transfers was revealed Wednesday. Michigan Tech announced that Mark Sinclair, UAH’s top goaltender the last two seasons, will play his senior season with the Huskies.

Sinclair is the ninth player to transfer from UAH, including six of the seven top point-scorers from last season. Including five graduating players, UAH has lost 14 players.

West has been busy finding players. So far, 12 have committed to play for the Chargers this fall (pandemic permitting). Only one, Ayodele Adeniye, was on this spring’s original recruiting class before the program was cancelled and reinstated.

West served as an assistant coach for UAH for seven seasons under Doug Ross from 2000-07. The Chargers won two College Hockey America regular season championships (2001 and 2003) and one tournament championship (2007) during that time.

Then West moved to Fairbanks, becoming an assistant with the Alaska Nanooks for nine years. He was the interim head coach in 2017-18, recruiting many of the players who helped the Nanooks earn a winning record last season.

West was a Charger winger from 1991-95. He scored 45 goals and 68 assists for 113 points, tying him for 15th in UAH varsity history.

West becomes the Chargers’ sixth varsity head hockey coach, and the first UAH alum to be head hockey coach.

Recent commitments:

Jonah Alexander, a forward from Toronto, was a first-team OJHL all-star after a 78-point season with the St. Michael’s Buzzers.

Josh Corrow is a defenseman from New Port Richey, Fla. He was most recently the alternate captain for the Whitecourt Wolves of the AJHL, notching 15 assists in 57 regular-season games.

Noah Finstrom, a forward from New Baltimore, Mich., spent the last two seasons with Jamestown of the NHL. He had 42 points in 54 games with the Rebels last season.

Quinn Green from West Chicago comes to Huntsville after back-to-back 39-point seasons with Topeka of the NAHL.

Michael Heneghan, a defenseman, had 37 points in 48 games with the Northeast Generals (NAHL) last season. Neutral Zone had him ranked 30th among uncommitted players born in 1999 and 174th in North America.

Derek Krall is a goaltender from Crofton, B.C. He had a .917 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average in 30 regular-season games with the Powell River Kings of the BCHL.

Nick Michel of Waconia, Minn. had seven goals in 32 games with Janesville of the NAHL last season.

Bennett Stockdale, a right wing from Ottawa, switched his commitment from Division III Geneseo to UAH. The alternate captain for Johnstown (NAHL) had 42 points in 50 games last season.

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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.”