A successful fundraising campaign has saved Chargers hockey at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, ensuring a return to the ice this fall.
On May 22, UAH had announced the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic heightened budget complications and ultimately resulted in the termination of its Division I hockey program, in addition to the men’s and women’s tennis programs.
In the ensuing days, UAH fans and hockey enthusiasts stepped up to raise nearly $540,000 on a GoFundMe page in less than five days. Additionally, alumni pledged $250,000 to offer the University almost $800,000 to help the tradition of Chargers hockey carries on.
Just one week after the announcement of its termination, the University confirmed a return for the program in 2020-21.
“We are thankful and gratified from the loyal support that has been demonstrated this week by the fans and alumni of Charger hockey,” University President Darren Dawson said in a 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.”
Among key supporters was NHL goaltender Cam Talbot, who has skated in 314 NHL games after playing for the Chargers from 2007-10. Talbot joined an advisory board for the program during the crowdsourced fundraiser.
The historic hockey program at UAH launched its inaugural season in 1979-80, where it operated as a successful club program through the 1984-85 season, winning three championships in those six seasons.
The program began the transition to a Division II team in 1985-86, but a lack of NCAA sponsorship made for the decision to go independent in Division I ahead of the 1987-88 season. Mediocre success and a return of NCAA sponsorship saw the program return to DII play in 1992-93, where it went to the championship game in three consecutive seasons and won two titles in 1996 and 1998.
The Chargers would ultimately return to DI status in 1998-99, becoming a founding member of College Hockey America (CHA) and claiming the conference’s regular-season titles in 2001 and 2003.
In 2006-07, the team earned its first DI National Tournament bid, losing in the Regional Semifinal to No. 1 Notre Dame in double overtime. Talbot joined the program the following season and led the team to its second National Tournament in 2010, again losing to the No. 1 (Miami-OH) in the Regional Semifinal.
“I'm extremely excited that the program will continue on,” Talbot told William Douglas of NHL.com. “Don't get us wrong, there's still a lot of work to be done. But this was the first hurdle and we couldn't be more ecstatic from the support we've gotten.”
Despite a string of tough seasons — in regards to wins and losses — the program has deep roots as one of two DI programs in the Sun Belt, and the lone DI program east of the Mississippi River and south of the Sun Belt.
Questions remain about the program’s initial welcome for players to seek unquestioned transfers to other programs. Defenseman Tanner Hickey and forward Liam Izyk have both already been granted transfers to Arizona State and Boston College, respectively.
President Dawson relayed that the University is fully committed to the program for the upcoming season, but a five-year funding model and resolution to ongoing conference issues will need to be addressed to guarantee the program carries on past 2020-21.
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