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UAH hockey program raises $17M, plans for long-term sustainability include new facility

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has released an update on the impressive, collaborative work to sustain its Division I ice hockey program on a long-term basis.

This comes after the program was temporarily discontinued and then saved by a grassroots campaign in the spring. A written release on Wednesday from UAH detailed the support of prominent alumni as well as the university administration and the North Alabama community since then to ensure that the program can be successful over time.

One major announcement came in the form of future plans to build a multi-purpose facility on the UAH campus that will be the home of the Charger hockey program.

UAH is a part of the University of Alabama System; the facility would be subject to approval of the UA System board of trustees based on the board’s established criteria, which includes achieving fundraising goals, developing a sustainable business plan and aligning with UAH’s budget parameters.

“The UAH hockey program has a long and cherished history,” UAH president Darren Dawson stated. “We are truly grateful for the vital support from our alumni and community as we work together to ensure that the legacy of UAH hockey continues.”

NHL.com and NBC Sports the same day reported that $17 million has already been pledged over the next 10 years in support of the program. The funds are reportedly a combination of university dollars and private contributions from alumni and supporters.

Goals for the program moving forward include alignment with a major conference, which is seen as a necessity for the program’s future. It is the only Division 1 hockey program in the Southeast.

“This is an exciting time for UAH hockey,” UAH athletic director Cade Smith said. “The UAH administration and our alumni have come together to make a long-term multi-million dollar, multi-year financial commitment so UAH hockey not only survives but becomes a major Division I leader that competes for conference titles and national championships.”

“The UAH administration and our alumni are committed to this goal, and it is our hope that the collegiate hockey community will give UAH the opportunity to show what a valued member we will be. Having made the commitment to our hockey program, we know we need to have a conference to call home,” he continued.

UAH alumni, led by former players Taso Sofikitis (CEO and president of Maynards Industries Group) and Sheldon Wolitski (founder and chairman of the board of The Select Group), are working together to ensure the long-term viability of the program.

“It is great to see the support we’ve already received and we’re excited about the future,” Sofikitis commented. “It’s clear that people care about the UAH program and growing the game in the Southeast. Hopefully, years from now we will have teams like Alabama, Tennessee and more in Division I. We’re excited about the future.”

“The support means a lot coming from alumni,” Wolitski added. “There are so many people here in the community who have been positively impacted by UAH hockey, but when you have alumni reaching into their pockets and investing in this program for the long haul, that’s what will make it sustainable. We want to continue to see the community benefit from college hockey.”

An integral resource for the alumni group has been involving key members of the hockey world in an advisory committee, including Sean Henry (president and CEO of the NHL’s Nashville Predators), Bill Wickett (executive vice president of communications of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning) and Cam Talbot (current goalie for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and an alumnus of UAH).

“Sean and Bill have been incredible to work with,” Sofikitis remarked. “They’re both extremely knowledgeable and well-rounded about what works and doesn’t from both the marketing and growth perspectives. They know that, if you can grow UAH hockey, it creates fans for both of their teams as well. It’s a win-win.”

“Using the incredible success of the Charger hockey program to improve the campus as a whole can be invaluable for every facet of UAH,” Henry concluded regarding the possibility of building the on-campus, multi-purpose facility. “It will continue to allow this incredible program to grow, soar and amaze us year in and year out. It will only make the school bigger and better every year.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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