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WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville drops hockey program

Northern Michigan University’s Rylan Yaremko, left, and Alabama-Huntsville’s Tyr Thompson watch the play during their Nov. 1 game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Trinity Carey)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another school’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville, a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association along with Northern Michigan University, was one of the few Southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

The Chargers were scheduled to play at NMU on Feb. 19-20, the second-to-last week of the regular season.

Last season, Northern won three of four vs. UAH, sweeping a home series in early November and splitting in Alabama later that month.

WCHA President and men’s league Commissioner Bill Robertson made a statement about Huntsville situation.

“We are deeply saddened by today’s news that Alabama-Huntsville has eliminated its men’s ice hockey program,” he said in the statement posted on the league’s website, www.wcha.com. “UAH has been a valued member of the WCHA since joining the league in 2013 and, as the first Division I hockey school in the Deep South, brought the sport to a previously untapped fan base for college hockey.

“We want to wish all the best to UAH head coach Mike Corbett, his assistant coaches, support staff and the Charger players affected by this decision and hope to see all of them at new schools in time for the 2020-21 season.”

The WCHA was likely to break apart after the end of the upcoming season as the seven schools in the Midwest — NMU, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji State — had filed formal notice to the league last summer that they would leave and re-form the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the CCHA.

That would’ve left only UAH, Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks in the league starting in the fall of 2021.

This story includes contributions compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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