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University of Lethbridge discontinues Pronghorns hockey programs due to budget

Pronghorns hockey teams axed as University of Lethbridge deals with budget cuts
WATCH ABOVE: The University of Lethbridge announced Monday that the Pronghorns men’s and women’s hockey programs have been eliminated as the school continues to deal with provincial budget cuts. Danica Ferris has more.

The University of Lethbridge has announced the end of both its men’s and women’s varsity hockey programs in the wake of the provincial budget.

A statement from the university cited “three successive years of significant reductions to its operating grant,” and called the elimination of the hockey programs one of a number of budget reduction strategies being implemented.

READ MORE: University of Lethbridge cuts 42 positions following Alberta budget

Fifty-two student athletes are directly affected by the decision, as well as coaches and recruits, the university statement said. However, it added that scholarship commitments would be honoured if student athletes choose to continue to study at the U of L.

The university is also in the midst of restructuring its Sport and Recreation Services, with the executive director position being eliminated last week.

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The move comes just weeks after 42 positions across several departments were eliminated in March, in response to 2020-21 budget balancing requirements.

READ MORE: Universities over-budget; need to freeze travel, hiring, hosting: Alberta government

In a statement, Alberta’s minister of advanced education said:

“These are challenging economic times that will become more difficult in the days to come.

“I know that discontinuing the hockey programs was a difficult decision to make, but as President Mike Mahon noted, the institution has too many teams for its size and the priority must be to preserve academic programming and career preparedness of our students,” Demetrios Nicolaides said.

Pronghorns women’s hockey team thriving with clean slate, new coaching staff
Pronghorns women’s hockey team thriving with clean slate, new coaching staff

The Pronghorns men’s team debuted in the 1984-85 season, and the women’s program followed in 1997-98.

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Both teams finished at the bottom of the Canada West standings in 2019-20, with the men going 6-20-3 and the women finishing with an 11-16-3 record.

“Measuring the impact of university athletic programs goes far beyond winning percentages,” said U of L president and vice-chancellor Mike Mahon. “Our hockey programs have played a very important role in the development of minor hockey in southern Alberta.”

For the women’s program, the move comes after the announcement of a significant financial investment by a U of L alumnus in January. Dan Laplante had pledged $125,000 to the women’s program over the next five years, in a donation that was intended to allow for full-ride scholarships and a stronger, deeper roster.

READ MORE: Pronghorns’ women’s hockey team thriving with clean slate, new coaching staff

What will become of Laplante’s commitment has not yet been communicated by the U of L.

According to the statement, Pronghorns Athletics went through system reviews in both 2015 and 2019, with both reviews concluding that the U of L’s 11 teams was proportionally large in relation to the size of the university.

Monday’s decision will decrease the number of teams being supported by the U of L to nine, with men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s swimming, and women’s rugby continuing on.

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