Two hockey players from Airdrie were among student-athletes impacted by the University of Lethbridge’s decision to cut its varsity hockey programs due to provincial budget cuts.
U of L announced April 20 the men’s and women’s Pronghorns hockey teams would be discontinued as a result of three years of “significant reductions to its operating grant." The Pronghorns compete in USPORTS – the highest level of university athletics in Canada.
In a statement, the university said the elimination of the hockey programs is "one of a number of budget reduction strategies in response to unprecedented cuts from the provincial government."
Airdrie was represented on the men’s team by fifth-year defenseman Spenser Jensen and first-year forward Jared Janke, who both grew up playing for Airdrie Minor Hockey Association teams.
Though he had wrapped up his five years of eligibility with the Pronghorns by the time the program was cut, Jensen said he was still surprised and disappointed by the announcement.
“It has maybe less of an effect on me, but at the same time, it was disappointing to see the school cut the budget,“ said the 24-year-old, who played four seasons in the Western Hockey League before joining the Pronghorns. “I understand, with the fiscal budget and everything going on with the provincial government, those steps had to be taken, but we were all disappointed with the decision.“
The players had no forewarning about the program being cut, Jensen said, adding they received an email April 20 to notify them of the announcement.
“It came out of nowhere for us,“ he said. “It kind of sounded like it might have been in the works since the beginning of the year, but we hadn’t heard anything about it, and neither did the coaches.“
In his five years of university hockey, Jensen played 131 games for the Pronghorns, scoring nine goals and chipping in with 22 assists. Janke, in his first year with the team, donned the U of L sweater in 11 games, recording one assist.
Having graduated with a business degree in accounting this year, Jensen said he plans to begin his career with MNP LLP's Lethbridge office in the fall. While his competitive hockey days might be behind him, he added he was looking forward to supporting the Pronghorns off the ice next season, both as a fan and member of the team's alumni group.
“We had a really good alumni group that did a lot for the team, as far as support and some things off the ice, such as helping players with finding jobs,“ he said. “Actually, my job came about from an alumni member of our team, who helped me get an interview with MNP.“
In total, the Pronghorns hockey teams were comprised of 52 players. The men's team debuted in 1984, while the women's team was established in 1997.
According to the U of L’s statement, the university will honour scholarship commitments to the student-athletes who choose to continue studying at the university and "will work with student-athletes and recruited athletes to pursue opportunities with other university programs if they so desire. Pronghorn Athletics staff connected with athletes, recruits and coaches from both programs earlier today to communicate this decision.“
The U of L announced May 1 it was establishing a committee to determine the feasibility of bringing the hockey program back to the university in the future.