WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod left Alabama-Huntsville last weekend with a clearer picture of the commitment made to its team.
The independent program, now coached by Kurt Kleinendorst, added a full-time assistant coach, a hockey-only equipment manager and a director of hockey operations recently. The Von Braun Center, the Chargers’ home rink, also underwent considerable renovations.
“Their facility looks really nice, a lot like they have done in St. Cloud,” McLeod said. “They’re working hard to improve things. They worked hard to make a good impression.”
That good impression, no doubt aided by the 5,106 in attendance for Friday’s home- and season-opener, helps because it should help the program be more attractive to the WCHA, which will be down to nine teams next season after the creation of the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
McLeod was joined on the trip by Minnesota State president Richard Davenport and Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb. They also met with business, civic and university leaders to gauge their commitment.
“It was something we felt we needed to do,” McLeod said. “We needed to take a first-hand look.”
UAH needs to find a conference. The team has only one series a month starting in January, the last two on the road, because others’ schedules are filled by league play. A program cannot survive this way.
There is no timetable for a decision, but WCHA officials are expected to talk about UAH at the NCAA meetings in Dallas in mid-January. If interested, they could invite UAH to apply. The WCHA would like a 10th member to ease scheduling.
UAH officials used their time with WCHA representatives to find out what they need to do to become more attractive, said McLeod, who did not elaborate. That info could prove critical since the addition of a new member requires approval from seven of the nine school presidents.
Things are far from certain but certainly look brighter than a few weeks ago for UAH, which now must take advantage of upcoming games to prove it belongs in the WCHA on the ice.
A loss and tie at home to Minnesota State suggest the Chargers could be competitive. A good showing at St. Cloud State this weekend would be a big help in turning heads.
Early troubles in Madison
The way Wisconsin finished games last weekend is why the Badgers are off to a slow start this season.
Outshot 8-3 in the final period Friday night by future WCHA member Northern Michigan in Green Bay, Wis., Wisconsin lost a 1-0 lead 18 seconds into the third and freshman Cohen Adair scored the winner for the Wildcats with 10:52 remaining.
The Badgers took a 2-1 third-period lead 18 seconds into Saturday’s third period, but NMU scored three goals in a 6:34 span to win 4-2 with a 12-2 shots advantage in the final 20 minutes.
“We need our guys to be willing to work hard and finish games for us,” senior assistant captain Ryan Little said.
Were the Badgers not conditioned well enough to hold a lead in the third period? That’s possible, especially this early in the season.
“We need more energy on the bench, we need to play a complete game both nights and that’s going to be our focus going into next weekend,” senior captain John Ramage said. “Northern Michigan was a hard-working team that deserved to win.”
Perhaps the Badgers were rated too high to begin the season. Wisconsin was ranked 18th in the early USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, WCHA media predicted the Badgers to finish fourth and the coaches picked them to take fifth.
Not to say that won’t happen or that Wisconsin can’t finish even higher or that the Badgers are written off before the WCHA schedule begins, but some might be too high on them.
Goaltender Joel Rumpel matured as his freshman season went on, got hot in the last four weeks of the season and finished with a .919 save percentage after a sluggish start, but the Badgers can’t afford for him to slump much this season.
Yes, Wisconsin returns 14 of its top 15 scorers from last season, but a lot of those guys weren’t doing a whole lot offensively.
Mark Zengerle, Michael Mersch, Tyler Barnes and Joe LaBate are the only returning players to score 20 points or more in 2011-12. Seven of the top 14 returning scorers scored 10 points or fewer.
New Nebraska-Omaha arena could be boon for program
By 2015 or 2016, coach Dean Blais’ hopes for a 7,500-seat hockey arena on the Nebraska-Omaha campus will be realized, according to an Omaha World-Herald report.
UNO athletic director of communications Dave Ahlers said Tuesday morning that construction of a new arena won’t be official and UNO officials cannot comment further until it’s approved by a Nebraska University Board of Regents vote Oct. 26.
Blais knows the value of an energized crowd sitting close to the action, which should make a good program all the more attractive to recruits.
According to the report, school officials are far enough along in their private fundraising and partnership efforts to propose the $65-80 million venue for hockey, basketball and volleyball. It should draw more students and have a better atmosphere than the 15,959-seat CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha. While a very good facility, fans were too spread out to generate any noise.
The proposed arena is not to be confused with Ralston Arena, an off-campus arena near completion that will house UNO basketball for the time being and the USHL’s Omaha Lancers.
WCHA quick to suspend bomb threat referee
The league front office was quick to suspend referee Peter Friesema indefinitely by early Monday afternoon following his early Sunday morning arrest for a bomb scare at the Anchorage airport.
His time officiating WCHA and Central Hockey League games is probably over. It is unfortunate that such an event is what it takes for college hockey to make international news.
Royal flop in Kansas City
Kansas City’s Sprint Center seats 17,544 fans for hockey and the Icebreaker Tournament averaged 2,227 fans between the two nights, which means the arena was 12.7 percent full, on average.
UNO, Notre Dame, Maine and Army played in the tournament.
The experiment of an off-campus site in a non-hockey market failed. Unlike the 2011 Icebreaker, at North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena, the games were televised nationally on the NBC Sports Network.
Only the die-hard fans are going to spend hundreds to travel — even from Omaha — to see their team play a nonconference tournament in October when they don’t know how good their team is going to be yet when they can watch it live on TV anyway.
• Colorado College’s Joe Howe picked up his first win (5-4 vs. Clarkson on Saturday) since the 4-3 OT home win on Dec. 2, 2011, against Denver.
• The No. 7 Pioneers finally open the season against No. 10 Massachusetts-Lowell 12 days after being allowed back in Magness Arena following the first U.S. presidential debate.
• Minnesota’s 34 shots on goal in Saturday’s win against Michigan State don’t show how much the Gophers really dominated, getting tons of opportunities in the slot although many shots missed the net. Minnesota attempted 62 shots compared to the Spartans’ 32.
• Minnesota State didn’t turn many heads with a win/tie weekend at Alabama-Huntsville, especially when the power play went 0-for-5 Saturday. J.P. Lafontaine, who led the Mavericks in scoring as a freshman, didn’t record a point all weekend.
• North Dakota successfully soldiered on last season with a depleted lineup. The injury bug took another big bite out of UND’s roster this week. According to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald, UND will play with just 16 skaters at the Alaska Goal Rush tournament in Fairbanks.
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.