Wednesday the University of North Dakota announced that it was eliminating their women’s division I hockey program. After being known as a hockey school in both men’s and women’s hockey, that’s no longer true. Moving forward, the Ralph Engelstad Arena will be home to only one tenant.
On March 4, 2017, the Fighting Hawks women played their last hockey game. There is no tomorrow for young girls around the region that had aspirations of playing hockey for the Fighting Hawks. The women’s team will join the archives of hockey history. The move left many in the community in a state of shock.
Back in January, UND President Mark Kennedy announced that the athletics department would need to further reduce its 2017-18 budget by over $1.3 million as its contribution to the university-wide cuts being dictated by the state’s revenue shortfall.
Those budget cuts finally became a reality on Wednesday, around 12:00 PM, news broke on Twitter that UND was cutting women’s hockey team. What was more puzzling, who broke this news story? The story was tweeted by Todd Milewski of the Capital Times in Madison, WI. Shortly thereafter, UND sent a media advisory announcing a press conference at the Gorecki Alumni Center at 3:30 PM.
I'm hearing that women's hockey is out at North Dakota, which is cutting sports to address a budget crunch.
— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) March 29, 2017
No One Told the Women’s Team
There was one big problem, the team was practicing for the upcoming season when the news broke. No one took the time to inform the women’s hockey team that the university was cutting women’s hockey. Yes, technically, they were informed about the move before the press conference, but the news was already out on social media by the time they were officially informed.
UND head coach Brian Idalski was blindsided by the move.
“We’ve run through the stages of grief—upset, hurt, disrespected, angry, questions of what’s next,” Idalski told Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. “We’re not alone. Swimming is in the same boat. People on campus are losing their jobs. It’s not great. We’re not the only ones hurting here. We understand that.
“Obviously, it’s sad for our current players, who had an opportunity to go anywhere they wanted but chose to come here so they could best improve themselves to compete at the national level and in Olympics and with national teams.”
Recruit Lauren Hennessey was Visting UND
Speaking of bad optics, women’s hockey recruit Lauren Hennessey was visiting North Dakota on a recruiting visit when the news broke. According to the Grand Forks Herald, the visit had been approved by the school.
UND sent out an apology to Hennessy and her family.
“We want to apologize to Ms. Hennessey,” North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison said in a statement emailed to the New York Daily News. “It was an incredibly difficult time on our campus and she was impacted in a way in which she did not deserve. She and her family have handled the entire situation with nothing but grace and class. We wish her the absolute best going forward.”
did it mention I'm from Boston and flew out at 5:00 am this morning as a hockey commit?
— Lauren hennessey (@hennessey4229) March 29, 2017
Former Players Sound Off
On Wednesday, former North Dakota All-American’s and USA Olympian’s Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux shared their thoughts on UND eliminating women’s hockey.
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 and Monique Lamoureux (@LamoureuxTwins) March 29, 2017
Monique Lamoureux shared her disgust with the University.
— Monique Lamoureux-M (@moniquelam7) March 29, 2017
North Dakota Athletic Director Brian Faison delivered the bad news to the media.
“This was a difficult decision. It’s a sad day when opportunities for student-athletes are reduced,” said Faison. “The University is going through campus-wide, state-mandated budget cuts. As a part of the University, we need to do what is in the long-term, best interests of the University, as well as the best interests of the athletics department.”
Some were asking who made the decision to cut women’s hockey at North Dakota. The decision lies with the athletic director.
“I have accepted the athletic director’s recommendation with the understanding that it provides for investing in championship teams in a balanced manner for both our women’s and men’s athletics programs,” said Kennedy. “This is a painful step to take for all parties involved, including me, but it is necessary given today’s budget realities. My heart goes out to all those who are disrupted by this change. We are proud of the way they have represented UND.”
Tyson Jost Signs with the Avalanche
Just when the day couldn’t get any worse, Hawks fans found out that freshman forward Tyson Jost has decided to forgo his college eligibility and sign an entry-level deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
For Hawks fans, it was a bit puzzling. Jost did what no other UND hockey player had done since Eddie Belfour, played one season and signed a professional contract. In week’s time, UND has lost both of their first-round draft choices.
Losses aside, the Fighting Hawks will still have a good base of young players moving forward.
From the Denver Post: On Wednesday night, shortly before the Avalanche faced the Washington Capitals, general manager Joe Sakic said in the team release that announced Jost’s signing: “We are excited to announce that Tyson has signed his entry-level contract and will be joining us for the rest of this season. Tyson is an all-around player. He competes, plays the game hard and is reliable at both ends of the ice. He just finished a strong year at North Dakota and we’re looking forward to seeing him in an Avalanche sweater.”
In 33 games with the Hawks, Jost scored 16 goals and 35 points. Jost scored five goals on the power play and was a plus-17. Jost was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round (10th overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Cam Johnson Saves the Day
Finally, at the end of the day, there was some good news in an otherwise bad news day. Junior All-American goalie Cam Johnson announced on Wednesday evening that he’s returning for his senior season. Johnson took to Twitter and Instagram to announce his intentions.
In an Instagram post, Johnson said, “Another year in the books. Learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about our group. Excited for my senior year and playing in front of the best fans in all of sports. Sour taste in my mouth, big things to come. Time to continue to decorate those rafters. #siouxforever”
In three seasons of hockey at UND, Johnson is 44-17-5, 2.08 GAA and .916 save percentage. Johnson also has nine shutouts.
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.