With the Wisconsin split in the rear view mirror, the Old Dog and Mrs. Dog are packing our bags and heading to Huntsville this weekend to watch the Huskies take on the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers on Friday and Saturday.
Huntsville, also nicknamed The Rocket City, is an interesting place. It’s the self-styled “Hockey Capital of the South,” a designation bestowed on the ‘Ville by the late George Wallace—yes, that George Wallace of segregationist fame (and eventual repentance, it must be noted). And the Chargers play in the Von Braun Center, named for Wernher Von Braun, former Nazi and V-2 rocket genius who led NASA to the moon and became the face of American technological prowess in the 1960’s.
The VBC, as it’s called, is a multi-purpose convention center, with a separate concert hall, playhouse/theater, and four exhibition halls. The Arena where the Chargers play is named for William S. Propst Sr., the founder and former CEO of Vintage Pharmaceuticals, who resigned from Vintage in 2007 after the company plead guilty to 19 counts of distributing expired drugs. His $5 million donation was made two years after the guilty pleas (and attendant fines and penalties of $6 million) were settled with the Food and Drug Administration.
So it’s a striking place to earn redemption, I’d say.
However, lest you think the Old Dog is smearing Huntsville, it’s a fine place to visit, with a high-tech cosmopolitan feel overlaid onto an Old South vibe. The people are incredibly friendly, and Mrs. Dog and I have been treated extremely well wherever we’ve been in previous trips.
So let’s look at some of the great things about Huntsville. To start, it’s the home of the Redstone Arsenal and the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, which is named after the World War II leader and statesman who also developed the Marshall Plan and never had any need of redemption. The Marshall Center is NASA’s cutting-edge center for rocketry and space propulsion technologies. For visitors, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the place to go. With both permanent and rotating exhibitions of historical NASA artifacts, including a decommissioned Saturn V booster and Rocket Park with 27 missiles on outdoor display, it’s a real treat for engineers or anyone who is interested in space exploration.
UAH is Alabama’s leading public technology university, more ‘Alabama Tech’ than just a branch campus in the University of Alabama system. The campus is beautiful, built in the 1970’s and 80’s and spreading out over 430 acres. Of course, Von Braun and NASA also played a role in making UAH into the academic place that it is today. UAH now hosts the Propulsion Research Center, which conducts studies that supports NASA and other government agencies. With about 7,500 students, UAH is a great deal like MTU—but with an aerospace emphasis.
Huntsville itself is the oldest incorporated city in Alabama, and has three historic districts with excellent and beautifully maintained examples of antebellum as well as post-Civil War homes. Mrs. Dog and I toured these areas when we were there in early 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed seeing this slice of history. It also hosts an art museum (next door to the VBC) as well as several other smaller museums and public gardens.
The Rocket City also has a robust nightlife, with lounges, brewpubs and dance clubs. The Old Dog and Mrs. Dog are getting a bit too old for dance clubs, but we’ve found a spot that’s a short walk from the VBC that we just love. It’s called The Voodoo Lounge. The Voodoo isn’t exactly a Yooper bar, but being as far south as you are in Alabama, it’s the next best thing. Located in a basement on a quaint street of shops housed in early 20th century buildings, it’s a great atmosphere. Plus, the locals are impressed by any visitors who can find the Voodoo. We’ll be hanging out there on Friday afternoon, holding our own pre-game social event. We’d invite any Husky fans who might be going to the Friday evening game to drop by. We should be there by 5:00 PM.
It might have been a coincidence, but last Saturday at the Voodoo, the band was Them Damn Dogs, a local band that’s developing a following in Northern Alabama.. It would have been better if that had been scheduled for this week, but somehow I’m not sure the Voodoo’s clientele would have seen the irony in that anyway.
Of course, most Husky fans will be heading to town for the Saturday game, and the Alumni Association is holding a pre-game social at the Martin Bar and Bistro—which is located just around the block from the Voodoo Lounge. As of Monday night, more than 30 people are signed up for the event, and we’re almost certain to hear from Joe Shawhan as part of the get-together. We’ll be there, of course.
Finally, while Husky fans tend to think of the Chargers as a soft touch, they’ve given Them Dogs (not Them Damn Dogs…) fits over the past three seasons. UAH has a proud hockey heritage, something that most Tech fans don’t realize. The Chargers started playing club hockey in 1979, and won 3 national club championships in the early 1980’s. After that run, they spent a year playing intercollegiately at the NAIA level, then another year in the old NCAA DII. From 1987 to 1992, they competed as an independent DI team. They then returned to DII and won two national championships and lost twice in the finals—and were paired against Bemidji State in all four games.
Starting in the fall of 1998, they returned to DI as an independent. The following year they became a charter member of College Hockey America and competed there until the CHA folded after the 2009-2010 season. They won two regular season championships (2001 and 2003) and went to the NCAA DI tournament in 2007 and 2010 after winning the CHA playoff championship. The lost 3-2 in overtime to Notre Dame in 2007 (sound familiar?) and were nipped by Miami 2-1 in 2010.
With the demise of the CHA, the Chargers struggled as an independent before joining the WCHA in 2012 with fellow CHA refugee Bemidji State. Since then, it’s been tough sledding (if you could sled in Huntsville), as the Chargers have only made the playoffs once—last season—but were able to extend Northern Michigan to three games before succumbing to the Wildcats.
The most noteworthy Charger alum is Cam Talbot, who started his NHL career with the New York Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. After getting significant game experience when Lundqvist suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his neck, Talbot was traded to Edmonton prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. He’s been the Oilers starter since then, and last year he led the NHL in games played—and set a new record for wins in a single season with 42—a total that passed Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr in the Oiler record book.
The Old Dog and Mrs. Dog will be lookin’ for Huskie fans down in “The Hockey Capital of the South.” Y’all c’mon down and watch the Huskies!