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Giving and receiving at Alabama-Huntsville

Thursday, 12.22.2011 / 9:00 AM / On Campus

By Bob Snow - NHL.com Correspondent

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Giving and receiving at Alabama-Huntsville
After the decision was made to remove the Chargers as a Division I hockey program, it appears the team may survive if it can meet certain conditions after a meeting with the school's new president.
The University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers might postpone celebrating more jolly this holiday season until the formal announcement comes that their hockey program has indeed survived a stay of execution.

In the meantime, players, coaches, parents, alumni and fans can hang a bow around some important information in the Huntsville Examiner of Dec. 7: "Less than two months after UA System Chancellor and University of Alabama in Huntsville Interim President Dr. Malcolm Portera announced that the Chargers would be removed from the NCAA's Division I and returned to club level, the decision has been reversed. On Tuesday night the university's administrators met with the team's supporters (some of them anyway) to discuss plans to save the team with help from the community at large. While the university has kept the details quiet, the hockey team is certainly back on the right track."

T

UConn commissions study

In an effort to remain competitive in the college hockey landscape, the University of Connecticut has commissioned a study of its hockey program, which is a non-scholarship team competing amongst mostly fully-funded scholarship programs.

The athletics department released the following this week: "The University of Connecticut Division of Athletics has named Stafford Sports, LLC, a nationally recognized sports consulting firm, to conduct a complete evaluation of its men's ice hockey program. The purpose of the evaluation is to assess the program's current level of support to that of Atlantic Hockey league members and other programs in the region. The assessment will include financial support, staffing, facilities and potential revenue sources."

-- Bob Snow
here has been no other formal information about the program's future since.

Before Dec. 7, the program was derailed in a town where "W" stands more for "wondering" than "winning."

"I'm going to write a book," said second-year coach Chris Luongo about the roller-coaster decision-making after a loss to New Hampshire Thanksgiving weekend that ended a marathon two-week bus trek from Huntsville to New England and back. "The odds are against us coming back; maybe 50:1. What else are we going to do at this point than stick together?"

Luongo is no stranger to bureaucratic decisions, having experienced the dismantle of the Wayne State program in 2008 as assistant there before joining Danton Cole's staff two years ago and succeeding him in 2010.

"You got to hand it to them," UNH coach Dick Umile said, "they had a long trip and played three games. I give them a lot of credit while they're fighting to keep their program."

How about 4,500 miles by bus with three losses and being outscored 20-1?

No matter, the "W" fight appears to have taken a favorable turn after a unique Thanksgiving Day dinner, complete with historic NHL connections.

"We celebrated Thanksgiving at Cracker Barrel," chuckled former NHL player Danny Geoffrion, grandson of the legendary Howie Morenz and Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion of Canadiens and Rangers fame.

Son Blake, the 2010 Hobey Baker winner and now a member of the Nashville Predators, completes the first-ever four-generation family to play in the NHL while sons Brice and Sebastian fill two important roster spots at Alabama-Huntsville, where Geoffrion is actively involved in advocating the program's survival.

"There's been a reversal," an elated Geoffrion told NHL.com this week. "The new chancellor who oversees all three major Alabama state schools was bombarded by alumni and us parents day in and day out [to keep the program.] He appointed a new president who seems to know [the game and its importance to Huntsville alumni.] The alumni asked the new president for a meeting and we had a very constructive meeting.
 

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"It is our understanding, although nothing formal has come forth, that we will have a D-1 hockey program next year as long as a lot of things happen. We will have to restructure the agreement with the Von Braun Center and sell more tickets. Just in the last four months, when all of the end was happening, alumni raised over $600,000. The main goal is to get into a conference; the WCHA seems the best fit. It's almost a three-year program, but there will be hockey next season with another independent schedule like this year. A final stipulation is that we get into a conference."

While those dominoes find a hopeful place into which to fall, several others are front and center daily to keep the team's season on some kind of even keel with a current 1-19-1 record.
 
The last eight games of the season are a pair each with Denver, Duluth, Maine and Miami, all perennial championship contenders.

"What we try to convey to the team," said Luongo who played at Michigan State before logging 218 games on the NHL blue line of the Senators and Islanders, "there's only one way to go about this, and that's to work as hard as you can and see what comes out the other side. While there are a lot of factors against us, there has been a consistent effort from the guys. We expect that of each other. The only thing worse than losing is to lose your dignity."

"You're taking what it's supposed to be all about -- the kids and their education -- and taking 23 lives and putting it upside down," said Geoffrion in parent speak. "We're grateful this is getting turned back around. The kids were basically free agents when the plug was first pulled. It will be a black eye to the game of hockey if hockey ends in Huntsville."

"When we took the job," Luongo said, "we had a different [University] president in place that believed in the vision of what Division I hockey would look like and do for the University of Alabama-Huntsville, and spread that vision across the country and the world. There's been hockey in Huntsville for 33 years from youth leagues to this. Surprisingly enough, the rink is full and it's a great place to play this sport."

For the cautious Luongo (who did not return comment about the most recent announcement), and his team captain, the focus remains unchanged since the beginning of the season.

"The realistic goal the next two months is continue to approach it one day at a time. Managing the psyche of the team is the biggest task. We'll need to do that on a day-to-day basis. It's definitely different than what you'd be normally doing and much more fragile. But we'll find [our definition] of victories along the way to help us manage or needs."

With a lot of help from the lone senior on the Chargers bench.

NHL.com's Top 10

1. Minnesota-Duluth 12-3-3
2. Minnesota 14-5-1
3. Boston College 12-6-0
4. Ohio State 13-4-1
5. Notre Dame 11-6-3
6. Merrimack 10-3-2
7. Colorado College 11-5-0
8. Boston University 10-5-1
9. Western Michigan 9-4-5
10. Union 9-3-5
"Most difficult thing," said captain Jamie Easton out of Edmonton, "is keeping everyone's spirit up with a tough season, and all the news is a little bit depressing. We need to just keep focused and get through the season; just keep pushing forward.

"That's a tough one, to keep going when things get even more challenging away from us. The key is just keep working hard. The games we play well are because of hard work; the games we don't are our downfalls because we're not working hard."

What does Easton think about the careers of two Geoffrions, Mac Roy, Justin Cseter, Kyle Lysaght, Jeff Vanderlugt, Andrew Creppin, Doug Reid, Michael Webley, Alex Allan, Craig Pierce, Graeme Strukoff, Curtis DeBruyn, Ben Reinhardt, Nickolas Gatt, Lasse Usivirta, Mat Hagen, C.J. Groh, Clarke Sauders, and John Griggs?

"Right from the get-go I was here for the whole haul," Easton said. "[The school] committed to me and I committed to them. I promised four years here and I was going to give them everything I had for this program. I'd say the guys deserve the same."

"They've given it all they have," Geoffrion said. "It's been a life-learning experience; it will make them stronger as players and people."

In a hopeful tone four weeks back, Luongo offered a sage summary about what was and what might be for continued hockey in the deep south of Division I.   

"This is not an equation you solve," he said, "but also not that difficult to find ways to approach it and make more in your favor than approaching it poorly."

On Campus Clips: Stat leaders at the break include Duluth's Jack Connolly in points with 29 (12 goals); Colgate's Austin Smith in goals with 18, including an NCAA-leading five shorthanded; T.J. Tynan from Notre Dame in assists with 20; and North Dakota's Brock Nelson in power-play goals with 9. Between the pipes, Colgate's Alex Evin tops all in goals-against average at 1.48 and save percentage at .948, while Clarkson's Paul Karpovich leads in minutes played at 1,210. Minnesota's Kent Patterson heads the list in shutout wins with 6 in 20 games.
Quote of the Day

Unless he really collapses, I don't see him going anywhere. I've been very impressed with his composure and maturity. Once the regular season started, he was a different guy; it was like game on and almost as if he's been around for a long time.

— Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon on rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad
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