U of L players, alumni fuming at decision to discontinue hockey programs
The University of Lethbridge announced Monday it was discontinuing its hockey programs, blindsiding 52 student athletes and coaches who say they weren't given advance notice of the decision.
LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. -- Graduating University of Lethbridge Pronghorns forward Torrin White received an email just after 10 a.m. on Monday, and he says he honestly had to read it about five times to grasp its contents.
That’s how he and his teammates learned of the U of L’s decision to pull the plug on both the men's and women's varsity hockey programs, impacting 52 student-athletes, as part of the ongoing effort to reduce the institution's operating budget.
“I read what the email said, and just kind of went ‘forever’? So after reading it a couple of times, I looked at our team group chat and there were a lot of messages in there almost immediately,” White said.
The Medicine Hat native’s biggest point was that nobody from either program had any idea this was coming, including the coaches.
Shortly afterwards, the players and coaches were invited to a Zoom call with board members from the university to explain the decision, but White said they didn’t get the answers they were looking for.
“We questioned why we don’t have an opportunity to fundraise or find ways to fund the program I guess. We had a lot of questions, and none of our concerns were answered or acknowledged the way I would’ve liked,” White stated, adding that made everyone even more frustrated with the situation.
University officials have said ending the hockey programs follows three years of successive reductions to the school's operating grant, and more than 60 positions within the school have been eliminated in the last six months as a result of budget restraints.
Social media displeasure
Players then turned to social media to express their displeasure over how things were handled, beginning with White.
Pronghorns forward Landon Gross, who would’ve been heading into his thirrd season with the U of L, wrote: “I think I speak for both teammates and friends of the @HornsHockey and @HornsWHockey when I say we feel we’ve been sold down the river by @uLethbridge and @UofLPronghorns.”
Graduating women’s forward Katelyn Breitkreuz tweeted: “Absolutely tragic news today that the @uLethbridge decided to cut the varsity women’s and men’s hockey programs. No warning. No opportunity to the save the team. Extremely disappointed in the program I was proud to play for the last five years.”
Former Pronghorn Mackenzie Gal quoted the tweet of the decision, with the caption “difficult decision? seemed pretty easy to me.”
The player's strong reaction is natural, but not just because for so many their hockey futures are up in the air, but because they took pride in representing the university on and off the ice.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve done a great job of getting out in the community. Whether it’s the Junior Pronghorns’ hockey camps, Operation Red Nose, just this year we started a Pronghorns Against Bullying campaign,” he continued. “And we kind of transferred that into a school visit campaign.”
White knows the remaining Pronghorn athletic teams will continue to do a good job of making their presence felt in the community but is disappointed the good work the hockey teams had done won’t be able to continue.
“We don’t go into the schools to promote the programs; we go in to be mentors and to promote Pronghorn Athletics as a whole. I think the impact the hockey teams had on the community in the past couple of years is something that will be really missed and really overlooked when they made this decision.”
The University has stated this decision was strictly based on a budget decision brought about due to unprecedented cuts from the province, as both programs cost the U of L just over $700,000 annually.
When asked whether he believed the frustrations were warranted, U of L President Mike Mahon responded he would’ve been surprised if that wasn’t the case and understood their issues.
“The fact that student-athletes are responding on social media in frustration is something that we accept, and in fact, will want to work with them to get them past a level of frustration so that we can start having productive conversations to help them,” Mahon said.
Despite that, White says he knows this was a university decision at the end of the day and feels for Pronghorn Athletics.
“Because I know that Spencer [Pommells], Eoin [Colquhoun], and Ken [McInnes] support the hockey programs and would go through a wall for us, so they’re just as impacted as we are,” White said.
In October 2018, the Pronghorns retired former captain Brock Hirsche’s #10 after he passed away in April of that year at the age of 26, after battling testicular cancer.
A scholarship was created in his honour mere weeks before his death, essentially to provide money to help bring in recruits and make it easier on recruiting to get good people into the program.
White explained there are some logistics to go into what they’re doing with the scholarship now, from what he understands, if players transfer or continue going to school in Lethbridge they’ll still be rewarded the scholarships they were given.
While Hirsche’s legacy will never diminish, White says it’s sad that the scholarship won’t help bring people to the city his former captain grew up in anymore.
“It’s really too bad because Brock created that scholarship fund to bring people to Lethbridge, he grew up here, he loved the Horns, he loved the school and the city,” White continued. “The purpose of it was to help grow the program, and it’s one of the most disappointing parts of this whole situation that it won’t be able to do that anymore.”