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The Players' Tribune: The Death, and Life, of a Hockey Program

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From: The Players' Tribune > Sports > Hockey

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The Death, and Life, of a Hockey Program

On March 29, I sat in the stands and watched a hockey team I loved skate for the final time.

I had already played my last game for North Dakota a few weeks before. I was at our arena, the Ralph, to work out in the weight room with a few other graduating seniors. Down on the ice, the girls were already starting their preparations for next season.

We knew that cuts were coming to a few of the athletic programs at UND, but it had never once crossed my mind that they would cut women’s hockey.

Grand Forks is a hockey town. UND is a hockey school. The women’s team has finished in the top four of the WCHA every year since 2011. Nine current or former Fighting Hawks players took part in this year women’s world’s in Plymouth, Michigan.

How could UND cut women’s hockey?

A few minutes later I was doing some stretching in the weight room when Gracen Hirschy, one of our seniors I was working out with, yelled over to me to come check out a tweet on her phone. It was from a local reporter who said that the word on the street was that UND was cutting the women’s hockey program.

I looked at Gracen and said, “No way … there’s no way.” ...

We walked out to the penalty box to try to get the attention of McKynsay Vanderpan (our athletic trainer). She told us she had already heard the news from Kevin Vaughan, our equipment manager. Another member of the hockey staff, Tori Williams, came over to join us. She was holding our assistant coach’s phone while he was on the ice, in case any info came down. We were sitting in the penalty box, trying to figure out what was going on when an email appeared on our coach’s phone. It was from our AD and it said that coaches and staff were to meet in Gamble Hall, one of our school’s auditoriums, that afternoon. ...

When practice ended, we learned that our head coach, Brian Idalski, had received the same news we had.

He called everyone together in the locker room. By this point you could feel the mood in the air. People were starting to choke up and nobody could talk.

“Look … it’s not official yet.” Brian said. But he could barely get the words out.

That’s really all that needed to be said.

We were shell-shocked. It was silence like I had never heard before. One of our sophomores, still in her gear, was just staring straight ahead. After a few minutes she just broke down crying — that feeling started to hit us all pretty quickly after that.

One of our European players came up to me:

“I have no plan B,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”

That hurt more than anything I had heard all day. ...

Two years ago, we had a Hungarian recruit who was visiting the U.S. for the first time. Coach Brian picked her up from the airport and was just going to take her around the campus and show her a few facilities. When they drove by the Ralph, she was like, “Oh, is that the school? It is so beautiful.”

Brian looked at her and said, “No, no. That’s the rink.”

She started to cry.

She couldn’t believe how breathtaking it was, and how — even in this small town —people could care about hockey enough to have a world-class arena.

That’s what the Ralph meant to us.

And now, that arena will be home to half as many UND hockey games next year.

That means half as many opportunities for little girls to fall in love with the game of hockey the way I had. ...

 

Read more at: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/amy-menke-north-dakota-womens-hockey-cut/

 

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