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Alabama Huntsville men’s hockey to return for 2020-21 after fundraiser succeeds

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Alabama Huntsville goalie David Fessenden (41) scrambles for the puck in a game against Bemidji State on Nov. 23, 2019, at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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The University of Alabama in Huntsville men’s hockey program isn’t dead after all.

The school announced Friday, May 29, that the team will return for the 2020-21 season after a fundraising effort raised more than $750,000 from private donations.

The university announced May 22 that it was discontinuing the program, but an effort spearheaded by program alumni and fans managed to raise the necessary funds to keep the team running.

A GoFundMe fundraiser with a goal of $500,000 has so far generated more than $520,000, plus former players Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski have donated $125,000 each. The initiative began after UAH President Darren Dawson informed the organizers Monday what the program would require to return to the ice and set a deadline of 5 p.m. Friday.

The goal was surpassed by noon Friday, with the help of donations from former players, fans and others from the hockey world. The fundraiser was promoted on Twitter with the help of figures such as UAH alum and Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot, as well as Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.


“The total amount of more than $750,000 in private dollars will allow the Chargers to continue to compete at the Division 1 level during the 2020-2021 season,” the university said in a news release. “This total philanthropic contribution is the largest athletic campaign contribution in the history of UAH.”

The GoFundMe page, as of Friday afternoon, said the university required $1 million to be raised by Friday, though the goal seems to have since been adjusted.

The Chargers men’s hockey program has now twice been resurrected. UAH briefly canceled the program in 2011 before it was restored two months later.

Dawson has committed university funding, in addition to the private donations raised, to cover the balance of the team’s operations in 2020-21.

"We are thankful from the loyal support that has been demonstrated this week by the fans and alumni of Charger hockey," Dawson said in a statement. "We are hopeful that this support will translate into a sustainable funding model that will allow the UAH hockey program to rise again to high levels of success."

Questions remain regarding the long-term financial stability of the program. UAH is currently without a conference beyond the upcoming season, though the team will seek to join the new CCHA that has been formed by seven departing WCHA schools, including Bemidji State. The league is set to begin play in 2021-22.

The school’s announcement said the Chargers must develop a “five-year philanthropic funding model” and “resolve the associated conference-related issues.”

“The university is fully committed to the upcoming season. The university will work with the supporters of the UAH hockey program and a newly formed Hockey Advisory Board to develop a plan that will allow the Chargers to thrive in (the) 2021-2022 season and beyond,” Athletic Director Cade Smith said in the release. “UAH is committed to building a world-class Division I hockey program with a permanent conference home that will allow the Chargers to continue past the 2020-2021 season.”

Austin Monteith is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of Bloomington, Ill., he is a 2015 graduate of Butler University. Follow him on Twitter at @amonteith92. Contact the Pioneer sports department at sports@bemidjipioneer.com.
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