Craig McAlister

Craig McAlister

EDMOND, Okla. — Craig McAlister on Saturday resigned as the University of Central Oklahoma's head hockey coach citing health concerns.

McAlister founded the Bronchos’ ice hockey program in 2006. He has led the team to eight consecutive postseason tournaments and national championships in 2015 and 2017. UCO has been a perennial powerhouse in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s men’s Division I and started the 2019-2020 season ranked ninth in the nation.

“I have been so fortunate to build the UCO hockey program from the very beginning to the top of the ACHA with two national championships,” McAlister said.

He credited the help of volunteers, supporters and fans for growing the program into a top-10 position and said he was confident the Bronchos would continue to be a force in the ACHA.

McAlister cited health concerns that forced him to give up the stress of coaching such a high-intensity game. Assistant Coach Michael Rivera moves to the top coaching position for the remainder of the season.

McAlister made the announcement in a team meeting following Saturday night’s 6-4 loss to Illinois, prompting emotional reactions from volunteer staff and players.

“It was a very hard decision to leave the players and my assistant coaches,” he said. “I have developed lifetime bonds with them and I will deeply miss the camaraderie of the team.”

McAlister founded the men’s ice hockey program at the University of Oklahoma, where he served as the head coach for three years before moving to UCO to launch collegiate hockey in Edmond. A Yukon native, McAlister grew up playing hockey in Oklahoma City before taking the ice for Ohio University. Upon graduation, he opted for pharmacy school over a professional playing contract and returned to Oklahoma to open a pharmacy in his hometown. Before launching the collegiate programs in Oklahoma, McAlister was active in developing the sport through USA Hockey, the national amateur governing body.

“Craig is the pillar of college hockey in Oklahoma, without him there would be no UCO or OU,” Rivera said. “There would also be no WCHL, which is our conference. Oklahoma hockey owes Craig endless amounts of gratitude for what he did to grow the sport in our small market.”

Rivera lauded McAlister as a personal mentor and father figure as their relationship developed over the past seven years.

“There aren’t enough words to express the respect and love I have for him,” Rivera said. “There is definitely an empty space in the locker room without his presence; the coaches and players are going to miss seeing him around the rink every day. However, our thoughts and prayers are with him right now and we wish him a healthy recovery. He may not be with us literally, but Craig will be with us the rest of the season as we play in his honor. The team knows what’s expected as I’m simply a reiteration of the foundation he built. The goal doesn’t change — national championship or bust — because that’s the standard of Craig’s legacy.”

University of Oklahoma head coach Josh Berge said McAlister’s influence on the sport and his players has been great.

“Craig has been a true ambassador of Oklahoma hockey over the years,” Berge said. “He has developed many young athletes into very successful adults. He will have a lasting legacy on Oklahoma hockey and I am truly privileged to have coached against him as well as learn from him.”

McAlister leaves the Bronchos with a 4-4 start to their season. They next play Friday night against Missouri State University at Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Edmond.

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