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UAH hockey fails to gain conference; Program will be suspended immediately

The inability to secure a conference affiliation for the University of Alabama in Huntsville hockey team has resulted in a suspension of the university’s troubled program.

A year ago, UAH announced its plans to discontinue the men’s ice hockey program as one of several cost-saving measures forced by the financial uncertainties associated with COVID-19.

UAH hockey received $750,000 in private philanthropic support to extend the program for the 2020-2021 season through a grassroots effort led by alumni and fans. The university’s administration worked to secure membership in an NCAA Division I hockey conference. Hockey is UAH’s only Division I sport. The university’s other athletic programs compete in NCAA Division II. Conference membership is a vital component of a sustainable funding model, making it a requirement for the continuation of the UAH hockey program, according to university officials.

UAH officials and former UAH Hockey All-Americans Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski, leaders of the alumni group that provided private funds to support the 2020-2021 season, agreed that the university would discontinue its hockey program if unable to secure a conference home by this spring.

As of this week, UAH has not secured a conference affiliation for the upcoming season, and therefore announced plans on Wednesday to suspend its hockey operations, effective immediately. If UAH ultimately secures conference membership, it plans to promptly reinstate its hockey program. However, UAH will not be eligible for conference play for at least one year upon receiving a conference invitation.

“We have been inspired by the unwavering support we have received from our UAH alumni and our community, and that inspiration has driven our tenacious efforts to secure a conference home, which is the foundational element of a successful and sustainable hockey program,” stated UAH President Darren Dawson. “Despite our hard work, UAH has not received an invitation for conference membership, and thus we must unfortunately suspend our hockey program.”

In collaboration with the alumni group and with guidance from UAH’s Hockey Advisory Board, the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) were identified as potential home conferences that would provide for a long-term, sustainable hockey program. UAH subsequently submitted proposals to AHA and CCHA for consideration. The CCHA did not accept UAH’s proposal, and AHA has yet to formally respond to UAH’s proposal.

The timing of this announcement gives UAH student-athletes the opportunity to transfer and play at another institution amidst the uncertainty of the program’s future at UAH. Student-athletes who would like to join another institution’s roster will be released without penalty and are free to transfer immediately. For student-athletes on the men’s hockey team who wish to complete their education at UAH, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of the students’ academic careers.

“I am endlessly grateful for our outstanding hockey student-athletes and staff, who chose to compete for UAH, despite an uncertain future, and made lasting contributions to our athletics program,” said UAH Athletic Director Cade Smith. “I also am appreciative for the unyielding support of the alumni group – especially Taso and Sheldon, who have been generous with their time and financial support as we have worked tirelessly to secure a conference membership invitation.”

Wolitski commented, “Although the suspension means that the 2021 – 2022 season will not occur, I want to be very clear that this is not the end of UAH hockey and, in fact, could be an opportunity for a new beginning. Taso and I have worked diligently with UAH administration, including Dr. Dawson, to develop a plan outlining UAH’s effort to secure conference membership.”

“If we achieve entry into a new conference, our multi-year, sustainable funding model will serve as the foundation of a reinvigorated UAH hockey program,” he added.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.