Alabama-Huntsville’s hockey program was nearly eliminated for financial reasons almost five years ago.
Now that the future of the program is secure, the Chargers are improving on the ice.
They’re 3-4-1 overall and 2-3-1 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, going into games Friday and Saturday nights at Bowling Green.
“They’ve established a work ethic, and now they’re starting to recruit players who can play,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They’re in the hockey world making a presence and having an impact. We’re expecting a difficult series.”
The Falcon program was in the same position as UAH’s was just before Bergeron was named BG’s head coach in April, 2010.
The future of the BG program eventually was guaranteed by the time Bergeron was hired, but it had been targeted for elimination prior to his arrival.
UAH won just a combined five games during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons as an NCAA Division I independent. The Chargers were approved for WCHA membership in January, 2013 and begin play that fall.
“In college sports, recruiting is your world. You have to have players,” Bergeron said.
“When the perception in your sport’s world is that your program is not going to be around next year or potentially going away, how are you supposed to recruit?
“The coaches here before me were living that. We lived with having to knock down those negative perception walls. That’s what Huntsville was dealing with.”
The Chargers have steadily improved in their two-plus seasons under head coach Mike Corbett. He was an assistant coach at Air Force before moving to UAH.
UAH finished 8-26-4 overall and 7-20-1 in the league last season, earning a spot in the WCHA playoffs. The Chargers were eighth in the league coaches poll this season.
UAH was competitive in the WCHA playoffs last season, even though it was swept at Michigan Tech in the first round.
The Chargers dropped a 1-0 triple overtime decision in Game 1 before Tech closed out the series with a 3-0 win in Game 2. UAH also lost a 2-1 decision at home to BG in the final game of the regular season.
“Now, those are good guys,” Bergeron said of the UAH coaching staff. “They’re working hard and proving to these future players they have, we’re here to stay. Now, they’re getting guys to commit there and they’re getting good guys to commit there.”
After scoring just 62 goals in 38 games last season, the Chargers are averaging 3.12 goals per game this season. They’re second in the league in scoring and sixth in goals allowed (2.88).
“They’ve got some talent. They’re scoring more goals, which is obviously a big deal,” Bergeron said. “We’re going to face a team that’s won in the building before, so they’re confident here. They have all the focus to come in here and knock us off.”
SERIES: BG is 14-3-1 against UAH, including a 7-3-1 in the Ice Arena.
The Falcons are 7-1 in WCHA games against the Chargers, UAH’s only win coming Dec. 7 in BG.
STATS: BG junior forward Kevin Dufour and UAH sophomore forward Brennan Saulnier are two of the six players tied for the league lead in goals with six.
Falcon sophomore goalie Chris Nell is third nationally in both goals-against average (1.20) and save percentage (.958). He leads the league in both.
STINGY: The Falcons are allowing just 1.91 goals per game, ninth-best in the country and best in the WCHA.
HOME SWEET HOME: The Falcons are 1-0-2 at home this season and 5-0-2 in their last seven home games, dating back to last season.
UAH is 2-0 on the road this season, winning twice at Lake Superior.
The Falcons’ seven-game unbeaten streak is tied for the second-longest active streak in the country. Quinnipac is first at eight while BG, Denver and Boston University all are unbeaten in their last seven.
UAH GOALIES: Charger junior Carmen Guerriero is off to a tough start after posting a 2.56 goals-against and a .928 save percentage in 29 games last season.
He has a 2.97 goals-against and an .893 save percentage in six games this season, and has split the last two series with classmate Matt Larose (2.00, .944).