When the news broke Tuesday night that the Alabama-Huntsville administration was going to do an about-face and work toward keeping the Chargers’ Division I program afloat after this season, supporters, players and coaches alike were ecstatic.
The university announced earlier this season that it would discontinue the sport at the D-I level starting next year.
And while there is nothing in concrete writing that says the team will definitely be D-I next year, UAH coach Chris Luongo said it’s just a matter of time.
“I’ve been given the go-ahead to start scheduling teams for next season,” Luongo said Wednesday afternoon. “There is still work to do, but getting that news last night was exciting and certainly something we’d been hoping to hear.”
Alabama-Huntsville junior captain Curtis deBruyn was in agreement with his coach.
“Because the news is so recent, we still have not heard of all the details that have developed and have not been informed of any of the particulars,” said deBruyn. “This announcement is incredibly important for the UAH community. Having Division I hockey here at UAH is something that really sets us apart from other institutions in the area and has helped the school create something special.
“Obviously, the guys on the team are all relieved and excited as most were worried about the uncertainty of their futures. We are very happy to have received the news and are all looking forward as to see what transpires.”
Said freshman forward Tyler Kotlarz: “The announcement is great news that the players are very happy to hear. Hockey is a big part of the UAH community. You can tell that by all the support we have and all the people working and fighting for the team to stay.”
Several players on the current roster had reportedly already made plans for next year at other schools, choosing not to stay at UAH and use any scholarships they may have received.
“I think we’re in an unprecedented position where we were working with the players to find teams for next season and now this decision changes that,” said Luongo. “I think the large majority of our players will stay. This is a great place to play and a great school.”
Luongo was an assistant coach with Wayne State when that school announced it was folding in September 2007. When UAH initially pulled the plug, it was déjà vu of sorts for Luongo.
“There are few comparisons,” said Luongo. “The support UAH has here is unlike what Wayne State had, so that wasn’t the same, but getting the news that we were going away was very similar. Your immediate focus turns to the players.”
Geof Morris, a UAH alum and longtime program supporter who operates saveuahhockey.com, was more than elated at the school’s announcement.
“I’m glad that the university was willing to reconsider its decision to end the program and I’m even happier that they’ve decided to reverse it,” said Morris. “Hockey is unique to UAH among southern universities and UAH should use distinctions to draw interest to the school. Hockey is key to the UAH experience and it’s wonderful to see that it will continue past this season.
“I was, am, and always will be proud to be a Charger, but this decision makes it a whole lot easier to have pride in my alma mater.”
So what’s the proverbial next step for Alabama-Huntsville?
“Details still need to be worked out with the administration, but there has already been some good conversation,” Luongo said. “Like I had said, I’m already starting our schedule for next season. I think beating Nebraska-Omaha over the weekend [in Nashville] had no bearing on [Tuesday's] announcement, but just shows what kind of team we have and what a win like that can do to raise awareness to our program.”
The Chargers travel to Minnesota State this weekend, and Luongo expects some added jump to his squad.
“This whole season, we’ve never been a team to just go through the motions,” said Luongo. “Whether or not the players were playing for a spot on this team or another, they have always worked hard and played that way each time we step on the ice.
“I would expect that the fact the program is sticking around might give the players a little added jolt. I know they’re excited.”