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With the UAH hockey program threatened, their fans and students try to save it again

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We’ve seen how playing hockey in the south can be a perilous life. The Atlanta Thrashers were sold off and moved to Winnipeg and even college hockey in the deep south is facing a dilemma of its own. The University of Alabama-Huntsville, who two years ago was denied entry into the CCHA conference and was left to play on its own as an independent team with no conference to call home, is in big trouble.

Interim school president Dr. Malcolm Portera is talking big about trying to save money for the school and the biggest way to do that in his mind is to demote the school’s lone Division I athletic program, the men’s hockey team, down to a club sport. The program is in need of money and a conference to call home. With the way the WCHA and CCHA are blowing up in favor of the Big Ten and the NCHC leaving many schools scrambling to put things back together, the door would appear to be open for UAH to find a home once again.

Even if UAH is able to raise the money to show they’re a viable program in the south and can stick around in Division I, Portera might still decide to cut the program. In a sport where there’s so much in flux between the conferences and with the threat of losing more programs when all the conference divorces are finalized in a couple years, having a program cut out for financial reasons would potentially work as the first domino to fall in college hockey.

The students and fans at UAH, however, are doing their part to try and fight the power. Geof Morris of SaveUAHHockey.com, a website formed two years ago when the CCHA denied UAH entrance to their conference, is on the case to get the word out. A rally will be held tomorrow to plead with the college administrators to save the program and keep top level college hockey alive in Alabama. Morris is also leading the way for a petition online to help those outside of Alabama to let their voices be heard.

Adding to the voices speaking up for hockey in Alabama, Mark McCarter of The Huntsville Times penned an open letter to Dr. Portera, in it he pleads his case to keep hockey alive in Alabama.

UAH hockey has been kept alive through private funding through the years, and there’s a groundswell of boosters ready with big-time commitments with a lot of zeroes at the end.

Listen to them. Work with them. Give them a price tag.

Give them a chance.

You may look at the bottom line on scholarship money being awarded to hockey players. Look beyond that. That investment is a wash. Those are partial scholarships. If you’re handing out $450,000 in aid, that much or more comes back to UAH as these guys pay out-of-state tuition and other fees to cover the remainder of their cost of attendance.

NCAA hockey is an exclusive club as it is with less than 60 schools participating at the Division I level. Losing a program, any program, hurts the sport on the whole. What started as an ominous possibility for UAH in 2009 when the CCHA denied them entry is coming to a head now with the interim school president talking about moving the program down in importance to a club level team, it’s starting to look like an eventuality.

If college hockey plans on having a larger presence on the college athletics scene and to be viewed as one of the bigger sports, losing programs is the wrong way to go about it. Getting UAH into a conference would be a hell of a bandage to help stop the bleeding in Alabama and while the WCHA is on the hunt to fill out ranks after all their big teams have moved on to greener pastures, they’ve got a great opportunity to help keep college hockey strong once again. Just like when they did the same for Bemidji State when the CHA dissolved two years ago, they can do it all over again by reaching out to a team in desperate need of a new home in UAH.

If that first step can happen, then perhaps the fans in Huntsville can keep their hockey dreams alive as well.

It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers reacts to the game winning goal by Alex Petrovic #6 against the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Panthers defeated the Islanders 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have a new look, a different general manager and heightened expectations following an ambitious offseason.

After claiming the Atlantic Division with 103 points, the Panthers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. But with a young, skilled nucleus of players mixed with productive veterans — including 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who had 66 points last season — the Panthers have served noticed to the Eastern Conference that they are an emerging force.

Their summer has consisted of re-shaping the front office by promoting Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to general manager. They also fired their director of player personnel Scott Luce, which was a controversial move for the team, as it shifts to a more analytics-based approach. They also completely revamped their scouting staff.

During the height of the playoffs, the Panthers and Vancouver Canucks made a trade, as Florida acquired 20-year-old center Jared McCann — a former first-round pick — and sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver.

The Panthers also freed up a substantial amount of cap space by trading Marc Savard‘s contract, and a draft pick, to New Jersey.

And that’s when things really started to pick up. The Panthers acquired the rights to puck-moving defenseman and pending UFA Keith Yandle — a “risk worth taking,” said Rowe at the time of the deal — and eventually signed him to a seven-year deal. The Panthers also traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, while Brian Campbell signed as a free agent in Chicago.

The signings continued from there:

— Stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad signed an eight-year contract extension.

Defenseman Jason Demers signed as a free agent.

— Forward Vincent Trocheck, 23, emerged last season with 25 goals and was rewarded with a six-year deal.

Reilly Smith got a five-year contract extension.

So, yeah, a busy offseason in Florida.

Now, can the Panthers live up to the heightened expectations?

Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month.

Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season.

When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series versus Tampa Bay but gave up seven goals in two games, before giving way to Mrazek for the final three games.

Over the summer, the Red Wings and Mrazek were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal just before the two sides were to have a scheduled arbitration hearing.

That is a large raise from the $737,500 average annual value Mrazek was making on his entry-level contract. The Red Wings now have more than $9 million dedicated to both Mrazek and Howard in the salary cap.

Howard, 32, is signed for three more years at $5.29 million. He posted a 14-14-5 record, with a .906 save percentage, which is well below his career average of .915.

General manager Ken Holland — he’s under pressure — has offered conflicting takes on Howard’s future prospects in Detroit, saying he had thought about trading the veteran goalie but then he made the case to keep Howard almost as insurance in goal, as Detroit continues to develop Mrazek as the true No. 1.

“Some teams have goalies that make $8 million, $7 million,” Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re on the higher end in terms of the money we’ve got in net, but we see goaltending as a strength for us.”

Blashill told MLive.com during the winter that he went into last season with a three-week plan to alternate between Howard and Mrazek, to see which of those two goalies could separate themselves and take charge of that No. 1 position.

The plan this time around will be one to keep an eye on when the season begins. It’s shaping up right now to be an expensive one.

Coyotes hire skating guru Dawn Braid, believed to be first full-time female coach in NHL history

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Dawn Braid as skating coach and say she is believed to be the first full-time female coach in NHL history.

Braid has a long association with the NHL.

She worked part-time for the Coyotes last year and has served as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

Braid also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development. Among the skaters she worked with while there is New York Islanders center John Tavares.

From NHL.com:

“Dawn has wanted to put me in to make myself a more powerful and efficient skater,” Tavares told NHL.com in 2012. “Dawn always says, ‘If you didn’t train properly and do the certain things you need to do, you’re not going to be strong enough to do the things I want you to do.'”

Braid’s hiring continues the trend of full-time female coaches in men’s pro sports; she follows Becky Hammon of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Kathryn Smith of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (2016) as the first full-time women’s coach in their respective leagues.

It’s all about experience for Red Wings sophomore bench boss Blashill

Detroit Red Wing training camp, day one
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Let’s be honest: It’s probably not easy to replace a coach of Mike Babcock’s repute.

More than a year ago, Babcock went to the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs and is being paid a lot of money — an estimated $50 million over eight years — to coach in that market. Meanwhile, back in Detroit and with Babcock out of the picture, the Red Wings turned to Jeff Blashill as their new bench boss.

True, Blashill had spent time as a head coach in the USHL, college ranks and with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. But he had no experience as an NHL head coach prior to the 2015-16 season and just one season as an NHL assistant when he was part of Babcock’s staff in 2011-12.

After a 41-30-11 regular season record and another playoff appearance, the 25th straight in Detroit, the Red Wings were bounced in the first round. One of the priorities for general manager Ken Holland this offseason was to insulate Blashill by bringing in more experienced assistants.

The Red Wings hired John Torchetti, previously the interim head coach in Minnesota, and long-time Boston assistant Doug Houda. Those moves were part of a larger coaching shake-up within the organization, as Tony Granato left for a head coaching job at Wisconsin, goalie coach Jim Bedard was not brought back and assistant Pat Ferschweiler, who ran the team’s 13th-ranked power play last season, was reassigned.

Blashill told MLive.com that “player development” will be a large part of Ferschweiler’s role going forward.

“I think it’ll be a real benefit,” Blashill told the Detroit Free Press of the additions to the Red Wings staff. “Lots of years behind NHL benches. I’ve only had two years on an NHL bench. That’s a scenario where I can learn from their past experiences.”

It’s all about experience.

Two years ago, Blashill was touted by Holland as an “NHL coach in the making.” A month later, he was given a three-year contract extension to coach the Griffins, so clearly they thought highly of Blashill by keeping him as opposed to potentially losing him to another NHL club. A year later, he was tapped on to replace Mike Babcock.

In this case, patience may be required, too. That may be easier said than done from a fan’s perspective because as impressive as Detroit’s current run of consecutive playoff appearances is, they haven’t made it out of the first round in their last three tries.

“I think he’s a tremendous coach and I think he’s going to be in the League a long time. He’s had a lot of success at every level he’s been at except the NHL,” Holland told NHL.com.

“He did guide us to a playoff spot in a League when it’s hard to qualify for the playoffs, but I also think as you looked at our team last year, there were lots of decisions to be made and I think the experiences of last year are going to be important for Jeff.”

If the Red Wings place such a great deal of value on Blashill gaining experience, and leaning on the experience of veteran coaches beside him, it would seem then that they are willing to invest a substantial amount of time in him as he continues to grow and establish himself as an NHL coach.

But with such experienced assistant coaches having joined his staff this offseason, it makes you wonder about what could happen if the Red Wings struggle significantly or fail to make the playoffs.

“I think there’s always pressure in this job and there always will be and I welcomed that when I took the job,” Blashill told MLive.com this summer.

“But really, I don’t spend lots of time worrying about what could happen bad. I spend all my time worrying about how we’re going to do things to make sure we win.”