Bemidji State University

Bemidji State University

Golden Knights sign Zach Whitecloud, one of college hockey’s best free agents

The Vegas Golden Knights have won the race to sign one of college hockey’s most highly-sought after free agents.

The NHL’s newest team — and its most surprising given their first-place ranking in the Pacific Division — signed undrafted defenseman Zach Whitecloud, from Bemidji State, to a three-year, entry-level deal on Thursday, beating the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Los Angeles Kings.

“He’s a very well-rounded player, a highly sought-after defenseman by a lot of clubs and we are delighted to acquire him as our first college signing,” Golden Knights general manager said on Thursday. “It should be a very good fit for the Vegas Golden Knights. He’ll join us in the next couple of days as soon as we can get him on a plane.”

Whitecloud, 22, just finished his sophomore season in college hockey, recording four goals and 18 points in 36 games with the Beavers. He’s expected to link up with the Golden Knights on Friday, but is not expected to play.

“He could (play for us this season),” McPhee said of the Brandon, Manitoba product. “The benefit of having him here is he can really learn a lot being around our team and our coaches.

“He’s a mobile defenseman. He moves the puck real well and he’s a safe player right now. We think he plays conservatively and we believe he can give us a lot more offensively. He has lots of room for growth. He’s good and safe and conservative. He’ll build the offensive end of his game.”

This move has assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon’s name all over it. McCrimmon owned the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings before joining the Golden Knights and would have had extensive knowledge of Whitecloud.

Whitecloud, 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, was in the running to play for Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.

“Our scouts identified him. Kelly McCrimmon knew him from his time in Manitoba. We’ve looked at him for a few years,” McPhee said. “He’s really developed well and he wants to be a pro now. We’re really delighted to have him.”

Whitecloud joins a defensive prospect pool that includes Erik Brannstrom, Jake Bischoff and Nicolas Hague.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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, 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.