University of Lethbridge hockey players are reacting after Monday’s surprise announcement that the school would be eliminating the Pronghorns’ men’s and women’s varsity hockey programs.
An email from university administration — including president and vice-chancellor Mike Mahon — broke the news to athletes and coaches on Monday morning, in what some players say was an out-of-the-blue shock.
“Basically, it just said that the program was being dismissed, which completely caught me off guard,” said Torrin White, a four-year veteran of the men’s team.
The University of Lethbridge announced the end of both its men’s and women’s varsity hockey programs on Monday, in response to provincial budget cuts.
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.
White said following the email, an invitation was sent out for players and coaches to join a video conference with university administration, and the conversation didn’t leave many of the players feeling better about the situation.
“A lot of players and staff — including the women’s coach, Doug Paisley — voiced their concerns, and maybe some alternatives such as fundraising, donations… and they didn’t seem too open-minded about it, which was really disappointing,” said White.
According to second-year women’s team player Meg Dyer, it felt like pleas to reconsider fell on deaf ears.
“They did not consider our options, I don’t even believe they really listened,” said Dyer. “It was hard, people are devastated. They’re really upset.”
Dyer and White said both the players and coaches were left in the dark, completely unaware that their teams were on the chopping block.
In a media conference on Monday, Mahon said the decision to leave the players out of it was made in hopes of not interfering with the student-athletes’ final exams.
“It seems like a reasonable excuse, but to just completely blindside a group of 60 people — and kind of upend their lives — it’s a little bit cold,” said White.
The Medicine Hat native was already slated to graduate from the Pronghorns program this spring, but for players who were set to continue — like Dyer — the decision means uncertainty for next season.
Dyer’s younger sister Mallory was set to join the Horns in the fall. The recruit signed with the team in October.
“It was going to be amazing, we were so excited to play together,” said Dyer. “It will be hard, but maybe we can find another program to go join together.”
But Dyer believes that could be easier said than done for her and her younger sister, with lots of rosters at other universities already full for the fall.
The university has said that it plans to honour scholarships committed to students if they plan to continue their studies at the U of L.
Decisions have not been made on what will become of the $125,000 donation received by the women’s hockey team in January — a five-year commitment for scholarships from U of L alumnus Dan Laplante — or the scholarship fund left behind by former Pronghorns captain Brock Hirsche.
Hirsche died in April of 2018 after a battle with testicular cancer, and his legacy is one still felt by the men’s program.
“That scholarship was created for the hockey program, and now there’s no hockey program,” said White. “It’s really disappointing, because we all know how much Brock put into the program.”