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40 years of UAH hockey blue and white (and other colors)

The University of Alabama in Huntsville, home of the Chargers who wear blue and white, is celebrating its 40th anniversary season of intercollegiate ice hockey. Beginning with the first club team in 1979, to the three club championships leading to the becoming a varsity sport in 1985, to winning NCAA Division II championships in 1996 and 1998, to the NCAA Division I tournament appearances in 2007 and 2010, to the rising WCHA program today, UAH is a unique case where a nontraditional sport for the South has been a school tradition anyway for four decades.

The Chargers have had many jersey styles throughout the years, and each era has its own defined look. The following uniform history only covers the regular jerseys, not including special events such as military appreciation or throwbacks.

Club Era, Rise to Varsity (1979-87)

1979-80

For their first year of existence, the UAH club team used a silhouette of a charging horse with “UAH” in a semicircle above it. (If someone has a photo of this jersey in action, please email me at m@uahhockey.com.)

1980-81

Bud McLaughlin

Bud McLaughlin

Is this a cover-up? The horse silhouette is replaced with a conspicuous blue circle with “UAH Chargers” and a pair of hockey sticks. It’s unclear why this was done, but I suspect the horse logo was a replica of the SMU Mustangs logo at the time. (I used the SMU logo and colored it blue to illustrate the 1979-80 jersey.)

1981-82

1981-82 Blue

Season three eschewed the big blue circle for a traditional style with the word “CHARGERS” in a diagonal line. UAH won its first U.S. National Club Championship in this jersey.

A blue jersey was unveiled in the 1982 Southern Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament championship game at the Von Braun Civic Center against Tennessee. Bud McLaughlin explains: “We warmed up in our whites, changed after the warmup, and came out in those – the first time to wear blue sweaters. The crowd went wild.”

1982-83

The team stayed with blue for the 1982-83 season, using an inverted version of the white jersey. The Chargers won their second consecutive U.S. National Club Championship.

1983-87 Home

1983-84 U.S. National Club Champions

UAH vs. Windsor, 1985

For the remainder of UAH’s club era and for the first two seasons as a varsity program, the Chargers’ white jersey featured “UAH” in large block letters. This was the first version to feature numbers on the sleeves.

Currently, I do not have any photos of the blue road jersey from this era. Goaltender Jim Mitchell tells me, “I recall it was a great looking jersey, I believe it said Alabama Huntsville on the front, Alabama was in script on top of Huntsville. It was mostly blue with white and silver trim. It was a great looking jersey.” If someone had a good photo of this jersey in action, please email it to me at m@uahhockey.com.

First Division I Era (1987-92)

1987-92 Home

Stu Vitue and Jean-Marc Plante

1987-90 Away

1988-89 Chargers

1990-93 Away

Doug McDonald

This was the style of UAH’s first NCAA Division I era (1987-92). These were the first to use an accent color with the blue and white — in this case, silver. The home whites had “U.A.H.” on the front, the only time periods were used in the abbreviation. The road blues are, to my knowledge, the only uniform in any sport at UAH to spell out the school’s full name. Around 1990, the silver and white stripes on the sleeves and waist were closed in to match the style on the home whites.

Division II Era (1992-1998)

1992-93 Home

UAH vs. Army, 1993

For one season (1992-93), the first returning to NCAA Division II, the Chargers adopted light blue as its accent color on their home jerseys. This also marked the first time the short name “Alabama Huntsville” was used on the uniform. The road jersey did not change that year.

1993-96 Home

1996 Division II national champions

1996-2001 Home

1998 Division II national champions

1993-2001 Away

Cedrick Billequey

The Division II era was defined by national championships — and red accents. Using red wasn’t just a hockey thing at the time: The basketball teams and the newborn baseball program also used red as an accent color.

Starting with 1996-97 season, UAH incorporated the mid-’90s fashion trend of diagonal lines in its home jersey. Think of the St. Louis Blues and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim at the time.

This same version of the blue uniform would be used for quite a while — for eight seasons — even when the home whites were tweaked in 1996. The Chargers didn’t wear blue often, though, spending a lot of time dominating at home during the Division II era.

Modern Division I Era, CHA (1999-2010)

2001-06 Home

Jared Ross

Jared Ross

Karlis Zirnis

2001-07 Away

2007 CHA Tournament champions

The Chargers went back to basics in 2001, going straight blue and white, just after the start of the program’s modern Division I era and becoming a member of College Hockey America. The home white featured an inverted version of the then-new UAH Chargers logo.

The road blues retained the script “Alabama Huntsville” on the front. This was UAH’s first use of logos on the shoulders. The College Hockey America logo was on the back of the collar.

2006-08 Home

2006-07 Chargers

2007-08 Away

Kevin Morrison

2007-08 Alternate

Brandon Roshko

In 2006-07, head coach Doug Ross’s final season, UAH stayed with a simple blue and white design and switched the logo with UAH in block letters. This design introduced blue stripes on the sides and the under side of the sleeves.

The Chargers would still wear the script “Alabama Huntsville” road blues that season, which culminated in their first Division I tournament appearance  after winning the CHA tournament. For the 2007-08 season, UAH switched to an inverse blue version of the home whites.

In January of the 2007-08 season, UAH wore alternate uniforms for the first time at the Von Braun Center against Yale. They were the Chargers’ first black uniforms, using an slightly different version of the flaming horse logo from the Calgary Flames’ alternate jersey of the early 2000s.

2008-10 Home

Cam Talbot

2008-10 Away

2010 CHA Tournament Champions

The Chargers started incorporating black into their main ensemble in 2008. The home white was an tweaked version of the 2006-08 iteration, while the road blue brought back the main UAH Chargers logo on the front.

This would be the set worn through the final days of College Hockey America.

Division I Independent (2010-13)

2010-13 Home

Ben Reinhardt

2010-12 Away

Jamie Easton

2013 Away

John Griggs

UAH adopted a new set during the uncertain years of Division I independence. The home white was derived from the New York Rangers white design, replacing red with black and displaying “UAH” in a diagonal formation. The “Charge On” patch above the U was in response to the shooting disaster at UAH in 2010.

The road blue is odd in that there’s not much in common with the home white. The stripe pattern and lettering font is different. The front design is more like what you’d find on a baseball jersey. (Perhaps the baseball team should consider it.)

In the middle of the 2012-13 season, when UAH was pushing to get into the WCHA, the Chargers changed up their road jersey to basically a prototype of what was to come. “Alabama Huntsville” returns to the front, with the horse logo in the middle. Speaking of baseball, the interlocking “UAH” logo, which the UAH baseball team has used on its caps since its inception in 1996, was the shoulder patch.

WCHA Era (2013-present)

2013-15 Home

Craig Pierce

Craig Pierce

2013-present Away

Kurt Gosselin

2013-17 Alternate

Brandon Carlson

A new conference gave the Charger program new life and a new set of uniforms. The basic design of the white and blue jerseys is based off the Chicago Blackhawks template, including the name and number fonts. The Indianapolis Colts-style horseshoe logo makes its debut on the shoulders.

The horse logo makes its return on the home whites, with UAH appearing above it this time. We see the refinement of that prototype blue jersey from the 2012-13 season. In my opinion, today’s blue jersey is the best UAH has ever had.

UAH debuted a permanent third jersey, and it’s UAH’s first gray sweater. Another unique trait of this jersey is the shape of Alabama on the shoulders, with a white star where Huntsville is located.

2015-present Home

Josh Kestner

Josh Kestner

2015-present Alt. Away

Matt Salhany

2017-present Alt. Home

Tyler Poulsen

Tyler Poulsen

There have been some changes in the WCHA uniform set up to the present day. In 2015, the home jersey saw a bit more blue added with blue shoulder yokes and a thicker blue stripe on the sleeves and waist, addressing a problem I had with the originals.

The blue jerseys are still part of the road set, but now the Chargers also wear a black jersey that uses elements from both the home whites and road blues.

In the second half of last season, UAH debuted a new alternate gray at home. This one is a bit simpler, opting for just a horse head logo on a blue stripe across the chest. This is the first UAH jersey to have not have “UAH”, “Chargers”, “Alabama Huntsville”, or any lettering on the front (save for the WCHA logo).

Special thanks to those who contributed photos and insight: Bud McLaughlin (1980-82), Jim Mitchell (1983-87), Mike Quenneville (1987-89), and Stu Vitue (1990-93). Photos also by Doug Eagan/UAH Athletics, Jazzmine Jordan, Will Nickerson, Chris Brightwell, and Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography. Questions and corrections are welcome at m@uahhockey.com.

1,000 games and still kicking

The UAH hockey program will reach a milestone when it opens the season at Notre Dame. The Chargers will be playing their 1,000th game as a varsity program.

It may seem like an arbitrary milestone, but considering the situation the program was in just a few years ago, it’s not insignificant.

Doug Ross coached UAH’s first 673 varsity games, winning 376 of them. His teams won two D-II national titles, two CHA regular-season titles and a CHA tournament title.

It’s well known that UAH is unique for having the only NCAA program in the South, a Division I play-up at a Division II school existing in a world where even large, rich universities need everything to fall into place to even consider starting a varsity hockey program.

So why did UAH promote the ice hockey program from club to varsity in the first place? In 1985, UAH was pushing to move its athletic program from the NAIA to the NCAA, and it needed sports. Hockey was logical because it already had a base of support from its success as a club program. It also had the facility with the Von Braun (Civic) Center, where the Chargers were drawing thousands per game.

Lance West, now the head coach at Alaska, was part of UAH’s first foray into D-I hockey, scoring 113 points.

It was the right setup at the right time. Could it be done in today’s climate at UAH? Considering the newest Division I programs at Penn State and Arizona State, which also had prominent teams at the club level, needed large contributions to get off the ground, it would not seem likely.

UAH didn’t really have to do much more investing to establish a varsity program in 1985, as the ingredients were already there.

The UAH athletic department officially joined the NCAA Division II ranks in 1986, with hockey in tow. The following season, with no established NCAA championship in Division II, the Chargers began “playing up” to Division I in hockey. Just by being in the big leagues, UAH had earned the reputation of being the “Hockey Capital of the South” by gubernatorial proclamation in 1987.

These early varsity seasons were a mixed bag. As an independent, UAH had schedules that were a mix of club, Division I, Division III, and Canadian programs. More Division I teams were added to the schedule over time until the 1991-92 season was mostly Division I.

The Chargers had varying results during its first Division I era, posting a record of 61-81-1.

Mario Mazzuca

Mario Mazzuca, a force on the 1996 D-II championship squad, is UAH’s all-time varsity record holder in goals scored with 96.

With the return of a national championship at the Division II level, UAH followed suit. Here, the Chargers were able to thrive, earning four berths in the NCAA championship and winning titles in 1996 and 1998.

By 1998, Minnesota State, Quinnipiac, and Bemidji State had switched to or announced a switch to Division I, numbering the days of the Division II championship. UAH followed and declared a return to Division I as well.

The 1998-99 season was a transitional year with a mix of Division I and III teams on the schedule. The 1999-2000 season was UAH’s first schedule that was 100 percent Division I.

Jared Ross

Jared Ross, the first Charger to play in the NHL, is UAH’s all-time leading scorer in the modern Division I era with 159 points.

It was also the season that the newcomers and independents to Division I needed leagues to play in. College Hockey America was formed in the summer of 1999 with UAH as a charter member.

Life in the CHA involved a lot of travel with the teams spread out, but it did provide the Chargers a means to succeed at the Division I level. UAH won regular-season conference championships in 2001 and 2003, but found a lot of heartbreak in the CHA tournament, losing in the final (and a chance at an automatic NCAA bid) four times.

Ironically, it was when the Chargers had sub-par years in the regular season did UAH finally make the NCAA tournament. They finished fifth in the CHA in 2007, but the senior-laden Chargers would run the table in the CHA tournament and make the Division I NCAA tournament for the first time. They lost to national top seed Notre Dame in double overtime in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

UAH did the same thing in 2010, taking one-goal games to win the CHA and make the NCAA Midwest Regional again, this time falling to national No. 1 Miami 2-1.

Cam Talbot

Cam Talbot, who is becoming a star with the Edmonton Oilers, anchored the UAH club that earned an NCAA tournament berth as CHA tournament champions in 2010.

However, with the other schools heading to other conferences, that was the last CHA championship, and UAH’s hockey future was very much uncertain.

UAH had applied for, and was denied, a spot in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2009. The school affirmed a commitment for the program as an independent in the short term, but for a program of UAH’s size, being an independent in Division I was just not viable.

Early in the 2011-12 season, UAH announced it would relegate the hockey program back to club status, which was really a death sentence. Establishing a club team would have been tantamount to a hard reset: A new staff, new players, a new schedule — as if it was 1979 again. Who was going to organize all that if the university wasn’t?

UAH’s Varsity Record
Overall: 434-493-72
Home: 295-174-35
Away: 116-295-36
Neutral: 23-24-1

For UAH, it is varsity hockey or bust.

Fortunately, thanks to a grassroots rally and a new university administration with a new commitment to the program, UAH was able to join a reconfigured Western Collegiate Hockey Association and survive.

The Chargers have still had their struggles, sure. Their record has been improving each year, if only little by little. But as UAH embarks on its 1,000th varsity game to begin its 33rd varsity season, we continue to remember how far this program has come, and realize how far it can go.

Here’s to the next 1,000.

Despite the snow, the games go on

A winter storm hit the Tennessee Valley on Friday. Snow fell in the afternoon, changing to freezing rain by the evening, covering roads with a sheet of ice. Many roads were closed.

The Chargers played at the Von Braun Center that night, losing to Ferris State, 2-1. Some may question: Why did the game go on?

“What helped this past Friday was the fact that Ferris stayed at the Embassy Suites and that all our guys live less than four miles from the VBC and have to get to the rink early in game days,” according to UAH Director of Athletics Dr. E.J. Brophy. “This solidified the fact that we would have a hockey game.”

Essentially, if the opponent is here, the games will go on. This has been the way for over 30 years.

It’s common knowledge that our hockey opponents, unlike for UAH’s other sports, are not nearby. Some travel by plane, and/or have lengthy bus rides, as our boys know all too well when they go north to play. They can’t cancel or postpone on the chance that there might be snow or ice in Huntsville. Typically, they deal with worse winter weather conditions for their own home games during the season (although they are more prepared to handle it).

The Chargers salute the few in attendance of Friday's game. (Photo by UAH Athletics/Doug Eagan)

The Chargers salute the fans after Friday’s game. (Photo by UAH Athletics/Doug Eagan)

The announced attendance for Friday’s game was 833. Of course, as is standard practice just about anywhere in sports, that number includes season ticket sales, so the actual number of people in the stands was significantly less than that. Still, it was UAH’s lowest recorded attendance since Jan. 10, 1997.

When it comes to winter weather situations, though, the attendance doesn’t matter. We know the travel conditions are going to prevent fans from coming. All UAH can do is play the games and take the attendance hit.

Brophy added: “It was definitely bare bones regarding vendors, off ice officials (some could not get there due to icy roads), and volunteer help, but we pulled it all together and made it work. Our number one goal was to have a quality college hockey game and we achieved that goal.”

Fortunately, this situation is very rare, but it’s not the first time that winter weather in Huntsville and UAH hockey have crossed paths.

That game on Jan. 10, 1997? The attendance was 574, the lowest in UAH’s varsity hockey history, for a 9-0 win over Bentley. Primary cause: It snowed all afternoon.

I worked in the UAH sports information department at the time, and the dusting that covered the grass when I arrived at the VBC turned into a two inches when I left. While that in itself wasn’t much, like Friday of this week it had done a number on the untreated roads, making travel rather difficult. I lived in Madison, but to be safe I only went as far as UAH and stayed with friends on campus overnight.

That was also a Friday. I was back at the VBC the next afternoon to work the game as the Chargers finished a sweep of Bentley, 7-3. Attendance for that game was 1,007.

But nothing compares to what happened 30 years ago this month. On February 1, 1985, an ice storm dumped several inches of ice and snow, paralyzing north Alabama, knocking out power for days. Yet, UAH played two games against Notre Dame at the Von Braun Civic Center. This was during the Chargers’ last season at the club level. Longtime supporter Terry Long describes his experience:

It’s Friday morning, February 1, 1985. I’m attending a technical short course in Sarasota, Fla. My wife has declined to join me for the weekend because Notre Dame hockey is coming to Huntsville.

Someone calls me out of the lecture telling me that I have an emergency phone call. My wife is frantic telling me that there are five inches of ice on the ground and roads, more is predicted, 50,000 homes are without power in the city, the Notre Dame hockey team is already in town, UAH has announced that the game will be played as scheduled, and come home to take her to the game.

The officials and the Notre Dame team were staying at the Hilton [now the Holiday Inn], which is across the street from the arena. And, the main power lines for the core of the city came into a station about a block from the arena. Given that the participants could skate to one of the few places in the area with power, the game was going to proceed.

I grew up slightly north of here where people actually navigated on ice and snow in the winter. And, I had a vehicle equipped with studded snow tires and a positive-traction rear-end.

Being concerned about the damage that may be occurring to our property, I decided to try to get home. Knowing that jets probably wouldn’t be landing in Huntsville, I made my reservations on a commuter airline that flew Twin Otter aircraft into Huntsville. That was wise because the jet flights were all indeed canceled by the time I got to Atlanta. After arriving in Huntsville, I then found an intrepid van driver who took over an hour to travel the few miles from the airport to our flatland home on the west side of Huntsville.

Well, we made it to game. The sight from the front steps of the VBC of transformers continuing to create blue fireballs in the remaining areas with power is still memorable. The announced attendance was 154.

Johnny Robinson, a.k.a. Squiggy, was the referee. It was a great game. The final score was 7-7. At one point, there were five men from each side in the penalty boxes. And, there was even a goalie-goalie altercation at center ice. It was a true Squiggy game, for those who remember him.

UAH beat Notre Dame the following night 9-4 with 2,152 in attendance. After the games, Notre Dame coach Lefty Smith made a great sour grapes comment that we still quote. After first blaming “a few bad calls,” he chimed “goaltending does a lot to equalize a better team.”

Four Crazy Years

Cole Leaves Program for US National Team Development Program

Cole’s replacement should be announced later this week.

That’s right: today is four years from the day that Coach Cole moved to Ann Arbor to work with the USNTDP, and who could blame him?  UAH Hockey was headed into uncharted waters with life as an independent coming up quickly on the horizon.  None of us knew then how that would go, and goodness knows that it went some very crazy places.  We can look on these last four years as a cycle borne of the complete instability of that uncertainty.  But we know that these things are true:

  1. We’re in a league.
  2. We have a great head coach that’s taking this program forward.
  3. We have a solid recruiting class coming in that is poised to take on large roles from the outset.

Danton’s departure is one of the very first things that I covered here on UAHHockey.com.  He and I stay in touch, and I assure you that he wishes the program well.  I hope that we will soon be a program that can snag one of his kids’ attention for a commitment to play for the Chargers for four years.  That may be more than four years down the line, but hopefully sooner than later.

Your Favorite Charger Hockey Memory Is …

Pretty sure this is Matt Larose's bucket. Photo credit: Timothy Burns

Pretty sure this is CJ Groh’s bucket.
Photo credit: Timothy Burns

It’s been a hard fall for UAH Charger hockey.  But we all know that the ship is turning around, and we can rest our hopes in the future, which we all know is bright.

But with this off week between the 18-game fall and 20-game spring, it’s time for us to ask: What’s your favorite Charger hockey memory?  Mine isn’t the 1998 national championship game, which happened my freshman year.  It’s not Keenan Desmet’s overtime, game-winning goal in the last CHA tournament in 2010, a game that propelled the boys to their second NCAA appearance in four seasons.

No, my favorite Charger Hockey memory was UAH’s 5-4 overtime defeat of now-conference-foe Ferris State University at the 2002 UConn Ice Classic.  “You’re crazy!” is probably what you’re saying.  Hear me out, though:

  1. Everyone loves an overtime game winner.  The radio crew loved Gerald Overton, and to see him bang that one in?  Come on.
  2. Go look at the box: two runs of three straight goals.  That game was exciting, end-to-end, barnstorming hockey!
  3. Two goals by Ryan Leasa!  I love that guy!
  4. ONE OF THOSE GOALS WAS SHORTHANDED!!!  Tell me the last time that you saw a defenseman score shorthanded.  That team was lousy with guys who liked to put shorties in the net — yeah, you, Charlebois — but seeing a defenseman put one in was quality.  Nine Chargers scored a man short in 2002-03, including Jeremy Schreiber, another defenseman, which I had forgotten until I looked at the scoring table.
  5. Two goals for the Zirnis-Ross-Bushey line, which is by numbers the most successful line of the modern Charger era, even if Igor was only on that line for part of a season.  They were clicking that night, as was Charlebois-Hawes-Bresciani.  That was quite the 1-2 punch.
  6. The best player on the ice got just one point — Chris Kunitz, whom you now see starring in Pittsburgh.  He wasn’t a happy camper after that one.

That post-game atmosphere was fun.  The two CHA invitees (Findlay, UAH) had taken down the home school (UConn) and the top-five ranked school.  Remember, this was the Ferris State that won 31 games and made the NCAA tournament, the school’s first appearance in the dance.  Joel Bresciani was grinning ear-to-ear.  Even Coach Ross was in a good mood.  It was a good time.  I have a huge smile on my face just thinking about it.  I was in the building for it, and it was glorious.

What’s your favorite Charger Hockey memory?  Sound off in the comments on Facebook, tweet us back, or send an email to g@uahhockey.com.  We want to know!