GRAND FORKS – Imagine coming off the ice from hockey practice and being told your team no longer existed.
That was the reality today for women’s hockey players at the University of North Dakota as the school has decided to cut the program along with swimming and diving. 4 Manitobans were on the 2016-17 roster of the Fighting Hawks. That group included Senior Defenceman Halli Krzyznaiuk of Neepawa, who is also a member of the Canadian team getting ready to play the USA on Friday in the opening round of the World Women’s Championship Tournament in Plymouth, Michigan. Reserve Goalie Annie Chipman, the daughter of Winnipeg Jets Co-Owner Mark Chipman, was also affected by the decision along with Freshman Forward Ryleigh Houston of Winnipeg and goalie Kristen Campbell of Brandon. Houston and Campbell will have to transfer to another school if they hope to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
In addition to the four players, former Fighting Hawk defenceman and Balmoral Hall Grad, Tori Williams of The Pas had just completed her second year as the team’s Director of Off Ice Player Development.
“There’s a budget reduction of $1.3-million because of economic issues for North Dakota and then in January, when the new governor came in, he had a different set of budget reductions that he wanted on top of that,” explains UND athletic director Brian Faison. “We had to look at all of our sports. At the end of the day, it unfortunately boiled down to these two sports.”
To make matters worse, news of the cuts leaked before the team was even told about it.
“Sportswriters were able to put two and two together. I wanted to meet with them face-to-face, but the reality is we should have just gone ahead and said something,” Faison says. “That’s one big disappointment in this whole situation.”
When the players were finally told about their fate, they reacted as you would expect.
“They were angry, shocked, disappointed, completely frustrated. It’s certainly understandable. You don’t have an answer to what you’ve taken away from them. It’s such a family, and we’ve really ripped a family apart. That’s a really hard dynamic to address, and frankly, you probably can’t.”
UND sports shame on you for not having the decency to communicate with the staff and players before anyone else! Can’t delete this one!
— Jocelyne Lamoureux-D (@JocelyneUSA17) March 29, 2017
Former players have been ripping the school on social media, as the news comes just after USA Hockey agreed to pay female players more money, seemingly indicating a desire to grow the women’s game. The irony isn’t lost on Faison.
“That’s a concern, obviously. More critical for collegiate hockey, you’ve gone from 35 to 34 schools. That’s not a good thing and we know that. We had to what we needed to do for UND but at the same time we had some sense about the impact it was going to have. Certainly the irony is there, no question.”
No other sports are at risk of being cut because the school cannot lose any more sports if they want to maintain their Division I status. Faison also says it’s highly unlikely the defunct programs will be reinstated anytime soon.