Chair of U of L hockey committee confident that Pronghorns hockey will be back: ‘It’s just a matter of when’

File photo (Oct. 1, 2019): The Pronghorns women's hockey team at a practice. Danica Ferris / Global News

Less than two months after announcing the discontinuation of its Pronghorns hockey teams, the University of Lethbridge has announced the members of the hockey advisory committee that will explore the possibility of bringing the men’s and women’s varsity programs back.

The committee was established shortly after the surprise announcement that the U of L would be cutting the hockey programs on April 20, a decision that resulted in significant public backlash.

Committee chair Dan Laplante, a University of Lethbridge alumnus and longtime supporter of the Pronghorns hockey programs, said that he too was shocked by the announcement, and he knew immediately that he wanted to do something.

“My first reaction was, like most, I was upset,” said Laplante. “After I had a chance to process it, I wanted to help — quite frankly — solve the problem and bring Pronghorns hockey back.”

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Laplante had committed $125,000 to the Pronghorns women’s team in January, a donation that was to be used to help field a more competitive roster over the next five seasons.

“I have a son and a daughter — fraternal twins — that play hockey. They’re in Peewee. And I was in Year 3 of my pledge to the men’s program, and I just didn’t think it was appropriate to support one gender without supporting the other,” he said.

Now, Laplante’s commitment to chair the hockey advisory committee will aim to support the future of the sport — for both men and women — at the university.

The committee consists of 13 sitting members and three resource personnel, with the purpose of exploring the future re-establishment of the hockey programs at the U of L under a sustainable commuity-based funding model.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve got the members who have agreed to serve, and there is a strong commitment [and] a lot of people who have reached out to support Pronghorns men’s and women’s hockey,” Laplante said.

“This is very doable. We’re going to bring Pronghorns hockey back. It’s not a matter of it coming back, it’s just a matter of when.”

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The when will be effected by U SPORTS rules, which state that after the discontinuation of participation, schools must wait two full years before reinstatement. For the Pronghorns that would mean the earliest the teams could compete again would be the fall of 2022.

In a news release, the U of L said that “Canada West requires applications for a new sport to be submitted in the summer prior to the new sport participation year, with the application process completed by the following March.”

Because of the U SPORTS timeline, the university has said that the committee will sit over the next 18 months before making its findings known, and making recommendations to university executives who would then approve of any requests to go before the university’s board of governors.

“I don’t anticipate this committee needing that much time to put forward the recommendations to the executive,” Laplante said.

Other committee members include the U of L board of governors’ finance representative Dean Gallimore, the board of governors’ advancement representative Terry Whitehead and Pronghorns athletic director Neil Langevin.

Community members on the committee include Toby Boulet, Perry Neufeld, Jerry LeGrandeur, Dino Caputo and Kathy Hopkins, as well as members representing women’s hockey alumni — Sam Schneyder and Lesley Burton — and men’s hockey alumni — PJ Lynch and Reese St. Goddard.

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“I want to make sure this committee explores all options [and] leaves no stones unturned to bring back something that’s sustainable,” said Laplante.

The committee will look closely at community funding models utilized by other universities in Canada, such as the Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s hockey program and University of Regina Cougars football.

“I know a heck of a lot more about those programs than I did two months ago,” Laplante laughed. “Probably the best example in Alberta is the University of Calgary Dinos football team, in terms of a community supported U SPORTS team in our province.

“The U of L is a community university, we view those as community hockey teams, and we want to bring Pronghorns hockey back, and it will be back.”

The committee is set to have its first meeting this weekend.

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