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Talbot helps rescue Alabama-Huntsville hockey program

University reinstates sport after Flames goalie leads fund-raising drive at alma mater

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

Aided by Cam Talbot, the University of Alabama-Huntsville NCAA Division I hockey program was reinstated by the school Friday after supporters raised almost $540,000 to save it.

The Calgary Flames goalie, who played for UAH from 2007-10, and backers of the 41-year-old hockey program had until the end of Friday to raise $500,000 or university officials would follow through on their announcement to end the program immediately due to budgetary concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

Talbot was the face of a GoFundMe effort launched by Alabama-Huntsville hockey alumni and supporters that raised $538,745 from more than 2,400 donors as of Saturday.

"I'm extremely excited that the program will continue on," said Talbot, who has played 314 NHL games for the Flames, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. "Don't get us wrong, there's still a lot of work to be done. But this was the first hurdle and we couldn't be more ecstatic from the support we've gotten."

Talbot took to social media and asked people to donate to a GoFundMe effort after university officials said they would reconsider their decision if supporters of the team could raise a total of $750,000. The rest of the money came from separate gifts of $125,000 from former Alabama-Huntsville players Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis.

"We are hopeful that this support will translate into a sustainable funding model that will allow the UAH hockey program to rise again to high levels of success," university president Darren Dawson said.

Dawson said the university woud form an advisory board to help keep the hockey program alive if the fundraising effort was successful. Talbot said he was asked to serve on the board, which would include UAH hockey alumni, business leaders and major donors.

"I never thought I'd ever join a board or even be asked to join one, so it kind of caught me off guard, to be honest with you," he said. "I don't know what I bring to the table, but I hope if I do join, I'll bring some sort of value to it."

Alabama-Huntsville is the only NCAA Division I hockey program in the Southeast. It won national championships as a Division II program in 1996 and 1998 before moving to Division I. The school has produced several professional players, including forward Jared Ross, who was the first Alabama-born player to reach the NHL and played 13 games for the Flyers from 2008-10.

The drive to save the program received help from members of the NHL community. Brian Burke, a Sportsnet hockey analyst and former NHL general manager and executive, donated $1,000.

"They've been a Division I program for decades, they've put players into the NHL, they've educated scores of other student-athletes," said Burke, who played hockey at Providence College. "I think it's an important program for the hockey family. We lost U.S. International University in San Diego (in 1988), that was a Division I program, we lost Northern Arizona (in 1985). And I just didn't want to see us lose another one."

Chicago Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome said he contributed $500 because "I have a few friends that play there. ... So I felt it was right to donate some money to a good cause."

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, Strome's teammate, tweeted, "It's great to see the hockey community getting behind and showing support for @uahhockey. Help keep the dream and tradition alive for the Chargers hockey program."

Talbot said, "That helped a lot because he has a huge following. Hockey is a small community, so it's nice that everyone found it, found time for it and gave it a little bit of love, which was huge."

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