Cause célèbre: UAH Hockey

Posted by: realet

The college hockey community has a history of rallying around people and programs that are in turmoil, especially turmoil not of their own doing. In this decade alone, we have seen the community rise up in support of programs at Clarkson, Colorado College, Rensselaer, and St. Lawrence when Division III’s Proposition 65 threatened to put those traditional powers at a competitive disadvantage by rescinding their ability to offer athletic scholarships. We saw friends and foes come together to support Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter and North Dakota defenseman Robbie Bina when each suffered tragic injuries that, in both cases, could have been life threatening.

Today, the community is starting to rally around a new cause – the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.

Long considered a quirk of the college hockey world, hockey in Alabama hasn’t been some flash in the pan experiment – the Chargers celebrate 30 years as a program this year. That 30-year history includes two NCAA championships in Division II, an undefeated 1995-96 campaign (26-0-3), the development of one of college sports’ most geographically odd rivalries with Bemidji State, and a quite unexpected CHA championship in 2007 which led into a near-upset of Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament that, regardless of the result, drew comparisons with Niagara-New Hampshire and Holy Cross-Minnesota in the pantheon of tournament upsets before this season’s slew of shocking results.

The slow and agonizing death of the CHA, which began in 2005 with Air Force’s announced departure, ends nearly five years later in March when the league plays the final championship of its 11-year existence. Wayne State has already fallen victim to the CHA’s demise, as the Warriors shuttered their program in 2008. Bemidji State, Niagara, and Robert Morris have all found chairs after the music stopped.

That leaves the Chargers, alone – and their battle to find a place to call home has gained traction in the tight-knit college hockey community.

“I really do feel like folks all around the country want to see us carry on,” said Geof F. Morris, a 2002 graduate of The University of Alabama in Huntsville who is one of the leaders of the “Save UAH Hockey” movement.  “It’s been fun.  Honestly, it’s been some of the best publicity the program has ever seen.  People who haven’t taken a look at us as anything other than a curiosity are now really looking into why we’d want to stick it out.”

The effort to save Charger Hockey has taken on a nationwide feel. “Folks not affiliated with Huntsville at all have joined our Blue Line Club,” Morris said. “People have been buying ‘Save UAH Hockey’ merchandise from all over.  It’s been gratifying and humbling.”

Bloggers from across the college hockey spectrum have weighed in on the UAH situation, from Alaska to Massachusetts and back again, and the support has overwhelmingly been for the Chargers, most hoping for eventual admission to the CCHA.

Most supporters are quick to display their disgust with the CCHA for declining the Chargers’ application. Thus, a recent commentary by CHN managing editor Adam Wodon entitled “CCHA Not to Blame” ruffled a few feathers.

“We weren’t a perfect fit for the CCHA,” Morris said. “If we were, they would have taken us.  We knew that we weren’t, which is why we offered a high five-figure travel guarantee in perpetuity to the league to help offset the costs of travel to Huntsville. Do I hold the member schools blameless?  Not really.  I do hold [CCHA commissioner] Tom Anastos blameless, which puts me in the minority with a number of folks here in town, but Tom didn’t have a vote.  My biggest disappointment is that they took the vote via acclimation and really didn’t give us any feedback as to why we didn’t fit the league.  Did we need to offer more money?  Were they just interested at staying at 11?”

But piling on the CCHA, Morris insists, isn’t the right attitude to take either, considering the school’s continued goal of CCHA membership. “[The community’s reaction] turned into the usual dumping-on-the-CCHA stuff that I really find disdainful… I’m still hopeful that we can work something out with the CCHA, even if it’s just a scheduling alliance.”

Save UAH Hockey is officially a movement. It’s got its own Twitter feed. It’s got its own Facebook page, replete with 3,800 fans. And, of course, its own website and blog, complete with a true rallying cry: “Thirty years of hockey means we won’t go without a fight.”

It’s a true grassroots movement, with plenty of assistance from the powers that be in Huntsville. “I talk to coach [Danton] Cole on the phone more than I do my own mother these days,” Morris said. “We are forever sending emails, making phone calls, bouncing ideas off of each other.  Danton is a dynamic personality and an inspiring leader… we’ve got an administration, from President Dave Williams on down, that’s committed to keeping hockey as the flagship sport at UAH.  Unlike most public universities in the state, we don’t have a football team, so this really does lead around here – not just because it’s the only D-I sport at the school.”

The Chargers may be secure for the near future, if only because they’ve received similar support from around the NCAA in the form of agreements for games as an independent. “Last time I sat down and had lunch with Coach,” Morris said, “we had enough games to be NCAA eligible for each of the next three seasons.  Ideally, we want to get to at least 30 games a season, and we need at least 10-12 of those to be home games to hold interest.  Lots of schools are entertaining us with home-and-home arrangements right now, and that’s really helping us to fill out our schedule.”

Thus, there’s still time left on the clock to save the Chargers, who will host the 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa. There’s still time to welcome the oddity fully into the fold.

“I think it would help NCAA growth in all sports if schools off the beaten path wanted to start what are currently regional sports,” Morris said. “I’m not holding my breath though.”

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to “Cause célèbre: UAH Hockey”

  1. quakk Says:

    this is great news. let’s hope they can sustain themselves until they find a home. and that it’s sooner rather than later.

  2. Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-27 | Save UAH Hockey Says:

    […] to @realet for the love: […]