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Alabama Huntsville eliminating its men's hockey program immediately

 

 

The financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic hit men’s college hockey on Friday when Alabama Huntsville announced it is dropping its program, effective immediately. The university also announced it is eliminating men’s tennis and women’s tennis.

“We are making this decision now to allow our student-athletes in hockey, men's and women's tennis programs to have the opportunity to play at another institution if they choose to do so,’’ UAH President Darren Dawson and athletic director Cade Smith said in a joint statement.

A member of the WCHA since 2014, Alabama Huntsville already faced an uncertain future after seven members of the conference announced last June that they’re leaving the WCHA to form another league, which turned out to be the new CCHA. That left the Chargers, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska (Fairbanks) as programs looking for a new home beginning in the 2021-22 season. Now, it’s only the Alaska schools, who faced the possibility of elimination last summer because of budget cuts in the university system only to get a late reprieve.

“I’m saddened by this news because I highly respect Coach Mike Corbett, who has done a lot to push their program in southern part of the United States,’’ WCHA Men's Commissioner Bill Robertson said. “He’s done as good as he can possibly do. He deserves to be in college hockey going forward, and he’s done a tremendous job developing that program.’’

The loss of Alabama Huntsville leaves Division I men’s hockey with 59 programs, though Long Island University announced April 30 that it is adding men’s hockey as a D-I varsity and plans to play in the 2020-21 season, though the Sharks have yet to hire a coach or announce a schedule.

Alabama Huntsville struggled mightily in 2019-20, posting a 2-26-2 overall record and finishing last in the WCHA with a 2-20-6 mark. The Chargers finished eighth or lower in six of their seven years in the 10-team league after previously being an independent team. A Division I program since 1988-89, UAH earned NCAA tournament berths in 2007 and 2010 as College Hockey America tournament champion.

The impact of the coronavirus crisis hit Alabama Huntsville swiftly. In April 2019, the school announced plans for a new multipurpose on-campus arena and began the early stages of fundraising. Smith in a July interview stressed his school’s situation isn’t like what the Alaska schools faced.

“We often get lumped in with the Alaska schools, but we’re different,’’ he said. “We’re in good financial shape, and a lot of commitments have been made to better our hockey program and all our athletic programs.’’

The loss of Alabama Huntsville leaves the WCHA with nine teams, and Robertson expects both Alaska programs to play in the 2020-21 season. He talked with representatives of both Anchorage and Fairbanks on Friday.

“They are going to continue to play college hockey,’’ Robertson said. “The idea is that they would like to keep the WCHA alive and moving forward and have asked me to talk to as many colleges as possible in joining our league.’’

Robertson continues to do just that, though he acknowledged it’s a big hill to climb in these uncertain financial times. “I’ve been in contact with a lot of schools, and I’m continuing to try to nurture that and move it down the ice, so to speak,’’ he said, though not identifying specific programs. “I don’t have any answers right now, but I hope to sometime in the fall if we have the ability to move forward with the WCHA with a five- or six-member league.’’

Alabama Huntsville becomes the latest in a line Division I teams eliminating sports this spring. Others include Cincinnati (men’s soccer), Bowling Green (baseball), Old Dominion (wrestling) and Florida International (men’s indoor track and field).

“With what’s happened with COVID-19, every institution across the country is looking at every expense they have,’’ Robertson said. “In college athletics, it’s a situation where every stone is going to be unturned to take a look at what they can do to come back from the loss of revenue. I’m not surprised that a school like Huntsville or any other school is looking at all their sports and having to make tough decisions.’’

Sweet Sweaters: The Tournament

 

 

Welcome, hockey fans, to inaugural Puck Drop Sweet Sweaters competition. Over the past month or so, we’ve encouraged people to send us photos of their favorite hockey jerseys and the stories that accompany them. We had a great response and have narrowed the field to 16, with which we will conduct an NCAA-style tournament.

We have four regionals named after Minnesota hockey legends – Brooks, Sandelin, Ikola and Darwitz/Wendell. The tournament commissioner, Puck Drop editor Randy Johnson, has picked the field and seeded the regionals. The Puck Drop team also consists of editors Joe Christensen and Jim Foster, and they’ll join Randy in voting on which entries advance all the way to the Sweet Sweaters Fabulous Four.

We’ll start with the Sandelin Regional, with these matchups:

Sandelin Regional

 

 

 

 

1. 1960 U.S. Olympic team, submitted by Boyd Paavola vs. 4. Mammoths of the Mankato “C’’ League, submitted Steve Bennett

Story lines: The Olympic sweater has deep sentimental value for Boyd, whose father, Rod, wore it as a member of that gold medal-winning team. … Steve’s Mammoths finished last in their league but won their first two playoff games and were two wins from the championship before the coronavirus shut down sports.

Winner: 1960 U.S. Olympic team, 3-0

Judge’s comment: “Tough draw for the Mammoths. That Olympic jersey knocked me off my feet.’’ – Joe

 

 

 

 

2. Jaromir Jagr Czech Republic, submitted by Joel Olson vs. 3. University of Minnesota Ice Men intramural, submitted by Lance Leupold

Story lines: Joel’s mother is 100% Czech, so there’s one reason for his love for this Jagr sweater. He wears it once a year – Sept. 28 for the St. Wenceslaus celebration. … Lance’s Ice Men jersey was a homemade entry he wore in the University of Minnesota intramural league in 1972 on a team comprised of former Edina High School band members who were on the U’s marching band.

Winner: Ice Men, 2-1

Judge’s comment: “Two great back stories. You’ve gotta love the passion behind a homemade jersey from the 1970s, so the Ice Men advance.’’ -- Randy

Regional final

1960 U.S. Olympic team vs. U of M Ice Men

Winner: 1960 U.S. Olympic team, 3-0.

Judge's comment: “The 1960 gold may be the 'Forgotten Miracle,' but the fact that jersey style keeps reappearing on recent U.S. Olympic squads means it has the thread count to make the Fabulous Four.’’ -- Jim

Next week: We'll play out the Darwitz/Wendell Regional.

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