The men’s hockey program at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, which can trace its history back more than four decades, has again earned a reprieve.
Partly due to the effects of COVID-19 on university finances, UAH announced in May that it would be dropping hockey as a varsity sport. Less than a week later more than $750,000 was raised in private contributions, including $539,280 from a GoFundMe fundraiser, plus almost $35,000 from supportive t-shirt sales, to allow the Chargers to play the 2020-21 NCAA campaign.
Now the real work begins, making sure Huntsville stays the self-proclaimed “Hockey Capital of the South.”
“The Chargers have been around for 41 years,” said former UAH forward and Huntsville native Jared Ross, who played in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers. “There’s a lot of history and rich tradition, and long term-success. The last 10 years have been a bit of struggle, but it’s unique to Huntsville, and something not many southern cities can offer.”
The UAH hockey program got its start in 1979, winning three national club championships, and played briefly in the NAIA before joining the NCAA Division II ranks and then Division I as an independent. The Chargers later returned to Division II, won NCAA titles at that level in 1996 and 1998, and then re-joined Division I as a part of College Hockey America. As a CHA member, UAH made two NCAA tournament appearances, the second one backstopped by current NHL goaltender Cam Talbot.
After the CHA disbanded in 2010, UAH again went the independent route before joining the storied Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2013. After next season, however, the WCHA will be down to just three teams in UAH, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska (Fairbanks), as the other seven member schools will depart to re-form the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
UAH nearly dropped its hockey program eight years ago, before substantial financial pledges were made to keep it going before the Chargers joined the WCHA. Once again alumni, professional players, and hockey fans from around the world pitched in to spread the word, including Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.
“The school tried to keep it quiet,” said Ross, whose father, Doug, coached the Chargers for 22 years and won 376 games. “It surprised a lot of people.”