Alabama Huntsville hockey is not dead yet.
One week after the school announced that the Chargers men’s hockey program would be eliminated immediately, alumni and supporters who started a Go Fund Me account raised more than $500,000 to revive the program to play in the 2020-21 season, athletic director Cade Smith announced Friday. In addition, two donors will contribute $125,000 each, and the school will start an advisory board of hockey alumni, local business leaders and major donors tasked to save the program beyond the upcoming season.
“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,’’ university President Darren Dawson said in a statement.
Alabama Huntsville finished its seventh season in the WCHA in 2019-20, and the program was on shaky ground even before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the school to drop hockey and men’s and women’s tennis because of financial concerns. Seven members of the WCHA announced last year that they are leaving to form another conference – the new CCHA – after the 2020-21 season. That would leave only Alabama Huntsville, Alaska (Fairbanks) and Alaska Anchorage in the WCHA after the upcoming season.
WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson said UAH officials have told him they want to remain in the WCHA this season, and the conference will address the issue during its board of directors meeting on Wednesday.
“There’s a few details when they announced they’re leaving that we need to work through,’’ Robertson said. “… This is a highly unusual situation and it’s going to require more discussion, but I’m optimistic that hockey will be played in the Deep South for a few more years for sure.’’
The $750,000 in private fundraising is the largest donation to athletics in Alabama Huntsville history. Among those supporting the program were Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot and former Philadelphia Flyers center Jared Ross, both former Chargers players.
This is the second time that Alabama Huntsville’s hockey program has been saved to remain in NCAA Division I. During the 2011-12 season, school President Malcolm Portera announced the program would become a club team. The decision was reversed by a new president, Robert Altenkirch, in December 2011, and fundraising began. The Chargers joined the WCHA in the 2013-14 season.
Alabama Huntsville plays in the Von Braun Center, a 10,000-seat off-campus arena. In April 2019, the school announced plans for a new multipurpose on-campus facility and began the early stages of fundraising. Now, to keep the program going past 2020-21, the new agreement calls for a five-year philanthropic funding plan and the resolution of its conference issue.