It appears that the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey team has found the happy ending it has been looking for, as the Chargers have been invited to join the Western College Hockey Association beginning in 2013-2014.
BREAKING: The University of Alabama in Huntsville has been invited to be a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.— UAH Chargers (@UAHChargers) January 17, 2013
The news, which was first reported by Todd Milewski of USCHO.com, brings an end to a saga that has seen many ups and downs.
While former conference mates Niagara and Robert Morris were accepted by Atlantic Hockey and Bemidji State found a home in the WCHA, Alabama-Huntsville has spent the last 3 years as an independent following the end of the College Hockey Association. College hockey's lone Southern team could not find a home and were most notably rejected by an 11-team CCHA due to cost and travel concerns.
That led to the University deciding to drop the sport in October 2011 before reversing their decision two months later with the support of Alabama-Huntsville boosters and fans.
However, a conference was still needed to ensure long-term survival. The Chargers, who are 3-17-1 this season, struggled to book home games (their only series against a Division 1 opponent this season was against Minnesota State in October) and the status as one of two college hockey independents (Penn State is the other) have made it tough for head coach Kurt Kleinendorst to recruit.
The decision by the WCHA to invite Alabama-Huntsville wasn't a guarantee as teams like Northern Michigan had concerns over the financial impact and missed classes. The conference is easily the biggest in terms of land size and UAH doesn't have the same NCAA incentives like extra games that teams in Alaska do.
With the Chargers' acceptance for the 2013-2014 season, the WCHA will have 10 members stretching from Alaska to Michigan to Alabama. In addition to Alabama-Huntsville, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Alaska, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan will join the conference from the soon to-be-defunct CCHA. They join current WCHA members Bemidji State, Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech.