Have You Got the Lockout Blues? Hockey is Only Two Hours Away!

J. Meric - Getty Images

We can only speculate how long the NHL Lockout will last this time around. We all love cheering the Preds on with our our fellow 17,113 fans in a packed and boisterous Bridgestone Arena. However, it is time we showed the NHL that they may take away 501 Broadway from us, but they can't take away our hockey! A blossoming hockey program awaits us only two hours south on the interstate. Get ready to load up your car and make your way down as you read about the University of Alabama in Huntsville Chargers, which has more ties to the Predators and professional hockey than meets the eye.

Background

The UAH Chargers are the only NCAA Division I hockey program located in the southern United States.

The ice hockey program began as a non-varsity club in the late 1970s. Joe Ritch organized the inaugural Charger team in 1979 and served as its head coach. The Chargers defeated Emory University 11-4 in its first game on October 26, 1979. They dominated in its first three seasons, winning three Southern Collegiate Hockey Association championships. The Chargers also won its first of three National Club Hockey Championships in 1982, defeating Southern Methodist 14-2 in the title game. For the 1982-83 season, Doug Ross became head coach as the Chargers moved to the Central States Collegiate Hockey League. That season, the Chargers hosted the U.S. National Collegiate Club Hockey Championships for the second time, where they defeated Auburn, Arizona, and Penn State en route to their second consecutive national championship. The Chargers claimed their third straight title in 1984.

In the 1985-86 season, the program was upgraded to varsity status as a member of the NAIA, becoming a full NCAA Division II member in 1986. With the NCAA scratching the Division II championship the following season, UAH moved its program to Division I as an independent beginning with the 1987-88 season. The Chargers would then return to Division II in 1992, and in 1994, the Chargers hosted its first Division II national championship series. The 1995-96 Chargers team went undefeated and beat Bemidji State 7-1 and 3-0 at the Von Braun Center to claim its first NCAA championship in any sport.

The NCAA eliminated Division II hockey following the 1998-99 season, forcing UAH to move its program back to Division I and become a charter member of College Hockey America. The Chargers won CHA regular season championships in 2001 and 2003. The 2006-07 UAH team earned the school's first CHA tournament title and NCAA Division I tournament bid. In Doug Ross's final game as head coach, UAH faced off against No. 1 seed Notre Dame at the Midwest Regional, taking them to double overtime before losing 3-2. Danton Cole would take over as the team's third coach thereafter.

In 2009, following the announced departures of several universities from the conference, the UAH applied for membership in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. However, their application was denied, and they remained in the CHA for another year before the conference eventually folded. UAH did manage to win the final CHA tournament, beating Niagara 3-2 in overtime for its second berth in the Division I tournament. Cole left to coach the United States National Development Team at the season's conclusion and was replaced by Assistant Coach and former NHL player Chris Luongo.

The following season, the Chargers were forced to remain as the lone independent hockey program in Division I. UAH was the host institution for the 2012 Frozen Four, played in Tampa, Florida on April 5 and 7, 2012. Representatives from UAH met with conference officials, athletic directors and administrators of other universities in attendance to discuss the possibilities of a conference affiliation. UAH will continue to play at the NCAA Division I level for the 2012-13 season, and the school has instituted a campaign to raise funds for the program to realign the Chargers with a conference. With the Big Ten forming its own hockey conference and stealing some schools from the WCHA, the WCHA is hoping to have 10 teams starting in the 2014-15 season. Currently, UAH is banking on the possibility of joining them.

A Fresh Start

The Chargers have won a total of 5 national championships, and right now, their prospects could not look better. On September 25, 2012, Kurt Kleinendorst was hired as the team's fifth head coach. Kleindendorst indeed has quite the resume. He coached the Under-18 team of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, leading them to a Gold Medal at the 2010 IIHF U-18 World Hockey Championship. He also served as an assistant coach and scout for the New Jersey Devils for nine years, guiding the Devils to victory in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals. Kleinendorst most recently was the head coach of the Binghamton Senators in the American Hockey League where he led that team to a conference championship in 2011.

The Chargers have developed notable players over the years, including Jared Ross, Scott Munroe, and Cameron Talbot. You may also be familiar with the Geoffrion family, one of hockey's most storied lineages. Blake "Boomer" Geoffrion, a Hobey Baker Award winner, played with the Predators until this past year. Though he may be gone, some other members of his family are still around. His younger brothers Brice and Sebastian currently play for the Chargers, with Sebastian serving as the team's co-captain. A couple of other key returnees will look to lead the Chargers, starting with last year's top scorer, Kyle Lysaght. Lysaght, entering his sophomore season, finished with 13 points off seven goals and six assists. He will get help from Justin Cseter and Lasse Uusivirta, who were also in the top four in points scored last season. Team co-captain Curtis deBruyn is a key defensive contributor, along with Graeme Strukoff. Meanwhile, John Griggs and C.J. Groh, both returners, will look to secure the role of starting goaltender.

The Chargers are prepared for a much more successful season after a disappointing onelast year, finishing 2-27-1. The Chargers have a tough slate of opponents ahead of them, with teams such as the University of Alabama, Northeastern University, and Boston College highlighting their schedule this year. Their 2012 campaign opens this weekend, welcoming the Alabama Frozen Tide to the Von Braun Center for a Saturday and Sunday matchup. The Frozen Tide are undeniably an SEC powerhouse and will immediately put the Chargers to the test on Saturday.

There will be free general admissions tickets to Saturday night's game, but tickets can be purchased at the Von Braun Center ticket office or on www.ticketmaster.com. Paul McCann, the PA of the Nashville Predators, will be announcing for the games this weekend, so we encourage you to come down and cure your sweet tooth for some hockey as we wait for this lockout to end!

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