You might think hockey in the South would be perpetually perched on thin ice, and Alabama Huntsville has experienced some slippery moments. A few years ago, the school nearly dropped the sport.
But hockey survived, and has even thrived at UAH — the only NCAA Division I hockey team in the South. Since the program's inception in 1979, the Chargers have won national club championships in 1982-84 and NCAA Division II championship in 1996 and 1998. In 1987, Alabama Gov. George Wallace declared Huntsville the "Hockey Capital of the South."
The moment judged the school’s greatest in sports, though, came on March 11, 2007, when the Chargers capped an improbable run to the College Hockey America (CHA) Tournament championship — their first in Division I.
They started the season 5-12-1 and finished below .500 in conference play (7-11-2) for the first time in school history and opened conference tournament play as the bottom seed. They trailed in every postseason game, but rallied each time.
UAH was down 3-0 to Wayne State in the tournament opener but won 4-3 in overtime. Conference regular-season champion Niagara was the next to fall when the Chargers came back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3.
Then in the championship game, Robert Morris took a 4-0 lead in the first period. Again, the Chargers rallied.David Nimmo’s shorthanded game-winner in overtime gave UAH a 5-4 victory and their first Division I conference championship.
“Calling this a heartbreaker is an understatement,” RMU head coach Derek Schooley told USCHO.com. “I give Huntsville credit. They were down, but were resilient and came back. We had the 4-0 lead, but they actually outplayed us. ... This will sting for a long time.”
The improbable comeback victory sent UAH to its first NCAA Tournament in Division I, where the Chargers lost to No. 1 seed Notre Dame, 3-2, after trailing 2-0. But it took the Fighting Irish two overtimes to vanquish the upstarts.
UAH remains the "Hockey Capital of the South," returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, hosting the 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa and joining the WCHA in 2013.
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Above: Alabama Huntsville's 2007 CHA Tournament champions and video of tying and winning goals against Robert Morris in title game. (Courtesy UAH Athletics)