The University of Lethbridge’s varsity hockey programs have been cancelled in an attempt to tackle provincial budget cuts.
On April 20, the university released a statement delivered by President and Vice-Chancellor Mike Mahon on the Pronghorn Athletics website about the cancellation.
“The Pronghorn hockey programs have been a source of great pride,” the statement read. “I know this news will significantly impact everyone associated with these programs.”
Due to the timing of the announcement, the program’s 52 players face additional difficulties finding other institutions to play for now that most post-secondary institutions have already started filling spots and recruiting players for next year.
The news of the cancellation comes after three years of reductions to the U of L’s operating grant. Additionally, at least 60 positions within the university were eliminated in the last six months due to budget restraints. The school’s executive director position for its sports and recreational services department has also been eliminated after multiple changes to the department.
After reviews conducted in 2015 and 2019 pointed to the university’s student population of just under 9000 in proportion to the 11 varsity programs at the school, concerns regarding the sustainability of the U of L’s athletic programs started arising. In order to buy time and find other sources of revenue, the U of L added an extra $1.55 million to Pronghorn Athletics from 2015 to 2019-20. However, they did not find external sources of revenue in time.
Even with the cut of the varsity hockey programs, the U of L states that it will have to make “further significant reductions,” even though other sports programs such as basketball, track and field and soccer will reportedly continue to operate.
“My hope is with a concentrated focus on remaining Pronghorn programs, we can continue to provide our student-athletes with a robust and meaningful experience,” Mahon said.
Decisions have not yet been made regarding the scholarship fund left behind by former hockey team captain Brock Hirsche or the $125,000 donation to the women’s hockey team in January from alumnus Dan LaPlante.
Many players are disappointed that they were not given warning before the email was sent out regarding the decision. Meg Dyer, a member of the U of L women’s hockey team, says that there were no signs that the hockey programs would be cancelled.
“It has been a difficult situation emotionally, to have to uproot and change my plans on forced terms,” Dyer said.
The university had reportedly not given student-athletes prior warning to avoid conflict with their final exams. While some players were set to graduate from the Pronghorns program this spring, the future is uncertain for the rest.
As a solution, the university is looking to work with interested student-athletes and recruited athletes to search for opportunities with other universities. For Dyer, this equates to transferring to the University of Saskatchewan.
“After speaking with head coach Steve Kook, I was given the opportunity to become a Huskie,” Dyer said. “I am still in the middle of transferring academically… It has definitely been a big transition but everyone at U of S has been extremely helpful in the process.”
At the U of L, a new committee composed of donors, alumni and university representatives has also been established to try and bring Pronghorn hockey programs back. The committee’s goal is to find a solution for the U of L to apply for reinstatement to U SPORTS, the national governing body of university sport in Canada. According to U SPORTS rules, universities that have separated from the league must wait two years before they can apply for reinstatement.
The committee will be led by alumnus Dan LaPlante, a long-time supporter of Pronghorn hockey.
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, Dyer sees the transition to the U of S team as a big step forward.
“I am looking forward to the next three years as a Huskie. I am most excited for being able to join a very successful program while playing with my younger sister, Mallory Dyer,” Dyer said.
“As time has passed, my excitement for moving on and becoming a Huskie has grown and has become my focus.”