Alabama-Huntsville’s hockey program given repreive, school changes position on program

Alabama-Hunstville and Bemidji State played in the 2009 College Hockey America semifinal at the John Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji. From left: Scott Kalinchuk, Chris McKelvie, Ryan Burkholder, Ian Lowe and goalie Cameron Talbot. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

New life has been given to the Alabama-Huntsville Division I men’s hockey program six weeks after it received an administrative death sentence from the University of Alabama system.

The grass roots Save UAH Hockey group met with new UAH president Robert Altenkirch Tuesday night and the school changed its position on the status of the program, which was set to be disbanded to the club level at the end of this season.

“Members of The University of Alabama in Huntsville administration met this evening (Tuesday) with hockey supporters, following discussions with Chancellor Malcolm Portera, and came to a consensus to work closely together to pursue institutional and community support to continue UAH hockey at the Division I level,” read a UAH statement reprinted by the Huntsville Times. “Several scenarios were discussed to ensure recurring support is in place, and the two groups will continue to meet in the coming days to finalize a workable plan.”

The Save UAH Hockey group has received more than $500,000 in pledges to subsidize the program according to the Hunstville Times.

The decision to end the program’s Division I status came in October as part of a cost-cutting move by Portera, the chancellor of the University of Alabama system and UAH interim president at the time.

Portera said in October the program needs $1.5 million annually to be a competitive Division I program.

When Altenkirch took over as UAH President, he said he wanted to ‘take a hard look at the decision’ to end the hockey program according to a statement released by Portera on Wednesday.

Altenkirch was the former president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and chaired a commission to build the Prudential Center, the home of the New Jersey Devils. The school’s club team hockey team plays home games at the Prudential Center.

“When Dr. Altenkirch told me the Huntsville community is committed to meet certain funding goals and timelines regarding a Division I program–and that he recommended they be given an opportunity to do so–my support for his decision was an easy one to give,” Portera said in the statement.

It is not immediately known if the coaching staff will stay with the team next season or what will happen to current players on the team who were going to transfer.

UAH sophomore goalie Clarke Saunders told the Grand Forks Herald last week that he planned to transfer to North Dakota next fall.

The Chargers hockey program is currently playing as a Division I independent and has not found a conference home since College Hockey America disbanded at the end of the 2009-10 season.

Huntsville, Niagara, Robert Morris and Bemidji State all played in the final year of the CHA. Niagara and Robert Morris found a conference home in Atlantic Hockey, and Bemidji State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Huntsville sought membership in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association but its application was rejected in the summer of 2009. WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod told the Huntsville Times in September that the WCHA has not received a membership application from UAH.

Bemidji State has played Alabama-Huntsville 60 times since making the jump to Division I in 1999-2000. BSU has played UAH more times than any other school since that time.

Bemidji State and Huntsville will play a non-conference series Dec. 16-17 at the Sanford Center.

BSU and Huntsville played for the Division II national championship in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998. BSU won the titles in 1994 and1997; Huntsville won in 1996 and 1998.

Bemidji State reached its first NCAA Division I Tournament in 2005 by defeating Huntsville in the CHA Championship game in Grand Rapids.

Follow Eric Stromgren on Twitter at @estromgren and on Facebook.