Monday, June 21, 2010

Struggling Alabama-Huntsville Loses Coach to USA Hockey

For Alabama-Huntsville, it's been a really rocky year.

Last summer, they were denied entry into the CCHA. Their league -- College Hockey America -- was about to enter its final season. UAH wanted to find a home to avoid playing as an independent. Doing so would greatly hamper their efforts to recruit, as it would be nearly impossible for them to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large because of the inherent difficulties that come along with trying to fill a schedule without any conference affiliation.

Without the carrot of an NCAA berth to offer, UAH is stuck with recruits that simply want to play hockey. It will probably be tougher for them to put a winner on the ice, and it would be even harder to get any reasonable number of home games.

Of course, the Chargers didn't let this stop them. They beat highly-rated Notre Dame in their season opener, and despite a poor finish in the CHA standings, they pulled off two upsets to take the conference tournament and automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. UAH then played competitively, but fell short in a loss to a clearly superior Miami team during the regional round.

That proved to be the high point. Charger junior goalie Cameron Talbot chose to give up his final year of eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers. Then assistant coach John McCabe took the job as head coach of Division III Finlandia University (Houghton, Mich.).

Now, head coach Danton Cole is moving on. He has decided to become head coach of the U.S. Under 17 National Team.

“Danton has a wealth of experience at the professional, collegiate and international levels,” said Scott Monaghan, director of operations for the NTDP. “He’ll be a great asset in preparing our players to compete on all stages.”

It's a homecoming of sorts for Cole, who is from near Detroit. The NTDP is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

As for UAH, while it's hard to deny this was a great opportunity for Cole, and they said all the right things about appreciating the work Cole did to keep the program together, they have to know the hard times are only going to get harder.

They're the lone wolf in the wilderness, the only independent in Division I. If they thought it was hard to fill the schedule for this coming season, wait a few years until they've had a few years of no NCAA bids and few wins. Crowds might still be decent in Huntsville, but the potential damage to recruiting is immeasurable.

And if the program isn't competitive, they're not going to get anyone who wants to play them, especially in Huntsville.

More than any other point in the last year, UAH needs to find a conference soon. Cole's departure only adds more uncertainty to the program's future, and the stability of a conference is what they need to move forward, both in hiring a coach and finding recruits.

No comments: