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College Hockey:
The meaning and the messages from the WCHA’s addition of Alabama-Huntsville

The news got back to Alabama-Huntsville while the school was closed because of a snowstorm.

Maybe it was a sign.

“Somebody called me and said Huntsville got in because hell froze over,” UAH athletic director E.J. Brophy said Thursday night.

He was in a mood to joke after getting the result the school has been waiting for since being part of the dissolution of College Hockey America after the 2009-10 season.

UAH was denied by the CCHA in 2009. It was kicked to the curb by an interim school president last season, only to be revived before the season was done.

Conference affiliation was the only thing that would save the Chargers’ future, though, so you can understand the relief and satisfaction in the WCHA voting to admit them for next season.

“It’s a red-letter day for us, there’s no doubt,” Brophy said. “I’m happiest for so many people: our players, our former players, our fans, our friends, our alums. I’m so happy for those people that kept on putting on that blue shirt and that blue hat and coming to the rink even when things were bleak.

“It’s just a really big day for everybody that is involved now or has ever been involved with our hockey program. For us to be admitted into the WCHA is just a real windfall for us.”

WCHA presidents sent a message in unanimously approving the Chargers’ application for admission on Thursday.

It’s no secret that some left behind in the fracture of the WCHA that will come about this summer felt like schools had started to look out for themselves instead of the overall good of college hockey.

Don’t be naive and think that the WCHA adding UAH was purely a kind gesture. There is business involved and the Chargers will have to foot a lot of the bill for their entry to the league in terms of a travel subsidy.

But the WCHA could have given some good reasons to say no and leave UAH to fend for itself.

“We do worry about one another and we do hopefully take a broader look at this collegiate hockey world. I guess we’re really putting our words and our actions together,” WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “The presidents were very sincere about that we have to worry about all of these programs and get ourselves back on track here a little bit as a collegiate hockey group.”

Here are some more thoughts from Brophy and McLeod on Thursday’s developments:

Brophy, on subsidizing visiting teams’ travel to Huntsville for league games:

“We were asked to provide a subsidy to schools. We felt that was very fair. We came up with a range after visiting with Commissioner McLeod and the presidents and ADs of the WCHA. We came up with a range that everyone thought was fair and good. We used the Alaska formula for that. Those schools have subsidies that they provide. We used that formula as a guide and came up with a range that everyone was happy with. And once we got over that hurdle, that really sent us on our way.”

McLeod, on the unanimous vote:

“That was one of the concerns I had, that we don’t need something that’s divisive for the group right now. The important thing for us is to get on the same page and moving in the same direction.”

Brophy, on competing in the WCHA:

“One thing’s for sure: We don’t want to just be the last little boy in the schoolyard who gets picked last for the pickup basketball game for the next 20 years. We have been playing hockey in Huntsville 34 years. Five national championships at different levels. Have been to the NCAA tournament, have won our league championships. In fact, the last time we were in a conference we won that conference.

“So while we realize it’s going to be very difficult and very challenging, we want to win the WCHA. We want to go to the NCAA tournament. We want to go deep into the NCAA tournament. I don’t really believe in five-year plans or three-year plans. I believe in winning now.”

McLeod, on the league’s discussions:

“I really didn’t have a good handle on what was going to happen prior to [the meeting]. I was quite surprised how the conversation went in a positive way right from the get-go. There was very little opposition. I was a little bit surprised at that.”

Brophy, on UAH president Robert Altenkirch’s efforts:

“Without our phenomenal president, Bob Altenkirch, this would not have happened. He is a tremendous leader and he got the train on the track and he made it happen. Without him, it would not have happened. As far as I’m concerned when he flies back to Huntsville [Friday], they ought to carry him down the street like Cleopatra.”

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