There have been many great comebacks in hockey. The “Miracle on Manchester,” the Toronto Maple Leafs comeback in the 1942 Stanley Cup, Saku Koivu and Mario Lemieux’s returns from their battles with cancer —hockey has seen many great moments of resurgence.
Then there was a comeback that proved the hockey community is closer than many seem to notice.
Just a week removed from their program being cut, a group of alumni and supporters of the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) hockey team decided to band together to try and save the team.
The GoFundMe was created this past Tuesday, and one of its biggest supporters was former Charger and current Calgary Flames netminder, Cam Talbot. He took to his own Twitter page to express why people should donate to the cause.
Along with the GoFundMe, t-shirts sold through Elite Embroidery were also part of the fundraiser. Anyone and everyone who had ever been a part of Alabama-Huntsville hockey was going to do whatever they could to save their team.
It seemed like a lofty goal to raise so much money in such little time. However, once #ChargeOn became trending, everyone across the hockey community began to take notice, and started opening their wallets. Everyone from alumni and fans who live in the area, to people who have never seen a UAH game but are simply fans of college hockey, was doing their best to help out.
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Even high-profile names were spreading the word. ESPN’s John Buccigross, a huge college hockey fan in his own right, advertised the fundraiser on his own twitter account. Many news outlets wrote articles about the cause, including The Athletic, ESPN, NHL.com and Yahoo! Sports to name a few.
Here Comes the Money
With the plan, and following, in place, the money began to come in. By Wednesday, the donations had already reached the halfway mark of the goal. Still, many were skeptic if the wave of money would continue. By Thursday night, they were less than $100K from the goal, less than 24 hours away from the 6 p.m. EST deadline.
When fans across the eastern seaboard woke up on Friday morning, it looked like the goal was within reach.
Then, a little after 1 p.m. EST, it happened…
In what seemed to be insurmountable odds, the Alabama-Huntsville hockey program was saved. Adding to the cause were two longtime UAH hockey supporters, Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski. Both played four seasons at Alabama-Huntsville, and were apart of the Chargers’ 1996 DII National Championship team.
As of Friday night, the fundraiser was up to over $800K and is still growing.
Obviously, the news that the Chargers will be able to play in the 2020-21 regular season is great, but there is still work to be done in order to keep the program around long-term.
According to WAFF-TV Reporter Carl Prather, there were certain parameters that would need to be met in order for the university to continue to support the program following the 2020-21 season.
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This includes a five-year philanthropic plan that must be accepted by the school, as only $500K of the team’s $2 million annual budget will be given from the university. A hockey advisory board will be created in order to maintain the program’s funding and ticket sales, along with help from supporters of the program.
A New Conference
Another need for the Chargers, in order for a vote of confidence from the school, is for the program to find a permanent conference home. The upcoming season will be the Western Collegiate Hockey League’s (WCHA) last season, meaning that UAH, along with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage, will be left as a independent teams.
This does not mean that all hope is lost for the Chargers. With the revamped Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) on the horizon, it is possible that UAH could be the eighth team in the new conference. Outside of traveling to Alaska, the travel budget for the Chargers would be similar to what it has been in their time in the WCHA. Shortly following the announcement the program was cut, head coach Mike Corbett mentioned it was the team’s plan to make a bid to join the new conference.
No matter what the long-term future holds for the program, the fact that the Chargers’ hockey program will live to see another day is outstanding for the sport of college hockey. If the support shown by supporters and alumni of the team in the past few days is any indication, there is a solid base for the team to continue to grow in the coming years.