Alabama-Huntsville suspends hockey operations for 2021-22

Continuity has not come easily to the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey program in recent years. UAH had announced prior to the 2020-21 season that they were cutting hockey, but the program was saved by a group of donors led by NHL alumnus Cam Talbot. The drive raised enough money to continue operations for another season, but the school later voiced its support for continuing the program for years to come. Yet, just a year later the same news has come back around. The university has announced that they are suspending operations, effective immediately.

This time, Alabama-Huntsville is citing their lack of a conference as the reason behind discontinuing hockey. The 2020-21 season marked the end of the WCHA, with the seven of the geographically-linked programs breaking off to form the the new CCHA, leaving UAH, Alaska-Anchorage, and Alaska-Fairbanks as currently unassociated with any conference. Alabama-Huntsville formally applied to join the CCHA, but were denied membership. The school has also applied to join Atlantic Hockey, but is still awaiting a response. Until they are accepted into a new conference though, the team will keep all hockey operations suspended.

There has to be more to this story than just conference membership, however. Alaska-Fairbanks seems content to move forward as an independent and Alaska-Anchorage is currently trying to raise funds in order to do the same. Arizona State obviously stands out as the top independent team in the country, a program that was formed without any expectation of conference membership but has already risen to national relevance. Long Island University followed that same path with their entry into Division I hockey last year and Lindenwood University will do the same in 2022-23. Independent hockey is sustainable in the NCAA, but Alabama-Huntsville has cited it as the sole reason for discontinuing their program.

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The prevailing belief is that the Chargers will be back up and running as soon as they are accepted into a new conference, which could be sooner rather than later with their Atlantic application still pending. This would assume that the decision is entirely motivated by their hesitancy to operate as an independent, so only time will tell if this theory proves to be true. In the meantime, Alabama-Huntsville will endure a repeat of last off-season, when many of their players and recruits (as well as much of their coaching staff) departed when the university cut funding. While UAH may not have any NHL prospects right now, they still stand to lose their top players. Starting goaltender David Fesseden has already committed to transfer to New Hampshire and top scorers Tyrone Bronte and Bauer Neudecker could follow him out the door. Regardless of how this works out in the long-term, the immediate future is bleak for Alabama-Huntsville hockey and concerns over university support will be lasting for years to come.

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