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January 17, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

WCHA Agrees to Add Alabama-Huntsville

CHN Staff Report

Alabama-Huntsville's precarious status as an independent program will change as of next year. The WCHA voted today at a league meeting to admit the Chargers to the conference in time for the 2013-14 season. The meeting was held in conjunction with the NCAA Convention in Dallas.

The move brings the WCHA to 10 teams for the 2013-14 season, which is a year of historic change throughout college hockey, one that had, until now, left Alabama-Huntsville behind.

“The WCHA is delighted to have reached in principle an agreement to officially welcome University of Alabama in Huntsville into the Association family as a full-time men’s member," WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod and Minnesota State president Richard Davenport said in a joint statement. "This is a significant day for the Chargers, the community of Huntsville, the conference itself, and college hockey in general. Growing the game and assisting developing programs however possible has always been a charge of the WCHA and this is another positive evolution in our history."

The powerful WCHA as its known today will be broken up into three conferences as of next season. In March 2011, the future formation of the Big Ten, which includes WCHA members Wisconsin and Minnesota, was announced. That was the impetus for the creation of the NCHC, announced in July 2011, a league composed of higher-end teams currently in the WCHA and CCHA. That group includes North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State.

With the WCHA and CCHA left without numerous powerful programs, the remnants of the two leagues agreed to form a new-look WCHA as of next season.

Meanwhile, UAH has been without a conference since the CHA disbanded three years ago. As a result, the program has suffered, and was at one time destined to be eliminated before it was resurrected by a new president during last season. The program has continued to struggle, however, and changed coaches in the offseason, going to Kurt Kleinendorst, but still has just one win so far.

The hope is that moving to a stable conference will help UAH get back on its feet.

“We’re pleased that our ice hockey team is going to have the opportunity to compete and grow in a NCAA Division I conference," UAH president Robert Altenkirch, the person responsible for bringing the program back from the scrap heap, said in a statement. "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.

“We want to thank the WCHA and its member institutions for their confidence in allowing us to be a part of their conference. Their affirmative vote will invigorate our ability to maintain our great hockey tradition.”

The WCHA has long been considered the only logical option for Alabama-Huntsville, with other conferences full, or committed to a higher profile, or, such as with Atlantic Hockey, unwilling to make the travel commitment required to have UAH as a member.

The WCHA will face its own challenges with so many top-end programs having departed. The conference will now comprise most of the former Division II schools within the CCHA and WCHA, as well as both Alaska schools and Bowling Green. It will consist of a number of former powerhouses that haven't tasted glory in a long time.

As of next year, the official lineup for the WCHA will be Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska, Minnesota State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville.

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