The hockey program at the University of Alabama-Huntsville has finally found a new conference.
The Chargers, who have been an independent since College Hockey America disbanded following the 2009-10 season, accepted an invitation today to join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the 2013-14 campaign.
"We're pleased that our ice hockey team is going to have the opportunity to compete and grow in a NCAA Division I conference," said school president President Dr. Robert Altenkirch in a statement to the Huntsville Times. "We believe that our affiliation with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be a tremendous boost to our recruiting, scheduling and our ability to be competitive on the ice."
UAH, which qualified for the NCAA Division I Tournament in both 2007 and 2010, will join Alaska Anchorage, Alaska (Fairbanks), Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan in the new WCHA starting next fall.
The WCHA is losing both Minnesota and Wisconsin to the new Big Ten Conference next year, while Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State will all be joining the new National College Hockey Conference.
Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior and Northern Michigan are all transplants from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which will cease operations in March following its league tournament. The CCHA, which is also losing Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State to the Big Ten, was founded in 1971.
“All athletic programs experience special defining moments, and our hockey program’s acceptance today into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is certainly one of those moments,” said Alabama-Huntsville athletic director E.J. Brophy said in a statement at USCHO.com. “The WCHA is a preeminent hockey conference in America, and I know that our student-athletes, coaches, fans, friends, alums and the people of Huntsville are ecstatic and proud of this giant step for our ice hockey program."
Alabama-Huntsville had seemingly dropped hockey as a varsity sport in late 2011, but got a reprieve when Altenkirch came on board as president last year. The school hired Kurt Kleinendorst, a former All-America forward at Providence College and Stanley Cup-winning assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, as its new head coach in September.
UAH began its hockey program at the club level in 1979 before becoming a Division II independent in 1985, and then a Division I independent in 1987. The Chargers returned to Division II in 1992, and won NCAA Division II national championships in both 1996 and 1998 before moving back up to the Division I level in 1999. They competed in the CHA from 1999 to 2010, winning two league regular-season titles and two playoff tournament championships before spending the next three seasons as an independent.
The Chargers are currently 3-17-1 overall this season, and last played in a 4-0 win over club program Oklahoma on Jan. 12. UAH is now idle until a two-game series on Feb. 8-9 at Penn State, the nation's only other Division I men's hockey independent, which will join the Big Ten next season.