(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)
With the news official that seven of the ten WCHA Men’s Hockey teams will leave to revive the CCHA (announcing the name was the news) after next season, three men’s teams need a home. I have a solution for one of them. Extend an invite to the Chargers to join effective in the 2021-2022 season. I have a few reasons why, part of which extends from seeing how passionate Head Coach Mike Corbett is about his program and how he has brought them back from the brink of being shut down once.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, as it stands, and especially if it loses the Red Hawks of Miami of Ohio, the Broncos of Western Michigan, or both, will cease to have a consistent presence outside of the upper midwest and Mountain West. The conference is, as it stands, the thing that binds together disparate institutions across multiple divisions with one goal, making Men’s Hockey their flagship sport. The Chargers share that goal. They would be another Division Two school with one Division One team in this conference.
Currently,the Chargers play in a shared complex with the Southern Professional League’s Huntsville Havoc, and before their final weekend this season have averaged 1483 fans (in a mere 12 games) in a building that seats 6600. While that is not ideal, the team is currently building a recruiting class from all around the world with less support arguably then last year’s new entrant to the NCAA Tournament, AIC. This year, AIC fresh off their tournament success and in the middle of another Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Championship season, has only averaged 706 fans in a building they share with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League. The arena capacity is 11294.
I say all of that to say this, do not use attendance as a reason to keep the Chargers out. Huntsville itself is a beautiful city within a short two hour drive of Nashville and even closer to other beautiful Tennessee cities like Chattanooga. If you want to grow college hockey as a sport, adding new men and women’s teams while helping the ones in it stay in it is a big deal. Also, when UND fans sell out Bridgestone Arena in October as the Fighting Hawks take on Penn State they will only be two hours north of Huntsville.
Chargers’ Head Coach Mike Corbett tried to schedule the Fighting Hawks around that time but had no luck. If accepted into the NCHC, in conference, a school with strong ties to NASA would play a school with a strong flight program at least twice a year.
Give him help
Immediately, Head Coach Mike Corbett would get a lot more donations to his program if he had to fund trips to NCHC schools, and would get a lot more eyeballs on his program. Right now Corbett holds what amounts to two full time jobs at most Division One Schools. He fundraises for his own program, a very rare thing for a Head Coach to do at this level, all while working on building a team and trying to get the Chargers to have a better future as a program. Having a national television deal’s money coming to the school, combined with a better streaming deal would be a big infusion into the coffers of the Chargers. The Chargers’ external media coverage (if you write for UAHHockey.com you are excluded from this) the past few years, other than when they were on the brink of losing their team, has been, to be frank, not good enough.
Our coverage of the Chargers in their efforts to upset UND this January has been the most extensive of any non local media/blog news source I have seen in the past few years. This program deserves a chance to show what it can do. If Corbett can keep a team afloat and produce an NHL goalie (Cam Talbot) while helping graduate several players onto pro hockey and pro careers in other wonderful endeavors. imagine what he could do for hockey in the south with even a bit of a fair playing field.
Who do we want this sport to be for?
If you truly support hockey being for all, as we do here, I would strongly ask that you consider supporting finding the Chargers a new home, in my mind ideally in the NCHC. Yes, there would be a talent gap immediately and for a few years the Chargers and teams on the lower end of the table would battle for positioning, that alone is not enough to disqualify them from being in the NCHC. Do I think the Chargers would be a better team than a lot of people would give them credit for and make teams sweat close games like they did to UND for a bit? Yes I do.
However, I truly believe that this sport is better when it brings in more people from around the world, supporting programs that grow the footprint of your game are something that the NCHC should strongly consider. In addition, as college sports do not have relegation we do not kick teams out of conferences for finishing last for a number of years and nor should we. If college sports are about the student athlete experience, having the NCHC play games in a building that has more seats than a few of its own barns do is something I would consider, along with giving student athletes more of a respite from the cold weather in the dead of winter.
I think Corbett and the Chargers have shown that through their fundraising efforts and willingness to go anywhere to play the game, that their fans would respond well to being a part of the most title-laden conference in Men’s College Hockey.They are outdrawing a team that was one win away from a Frozen Four last year as well. If a man doing two jobs with little external support bar his own donor base can keep a program afloat in a conference that does not provide anywhere near the exposure of the NCHC, imagine what his program could do with a level playing field.
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