Women's hockey players organize rally to save program
TRURO - The Saint Mary's Huskies women's hockey team isn't taking no for an answer.
The players have organized a rally for tonight at the Halifax campus' McNally Main building on Robie Street at 6 p.m. in an effort to change the minds of the school brass, who announced Friday they were cutting the program.
"This is our family," said 22-year-old Leah MacLennan, a Princeton Heights resident and forward with the Huskies. "A lot of the girls are from Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and this is their family. We want to remain as Huskies and we'll fight to wear the maroon and white."
Athletic director Steve Sarty, a Truro native, told the Canadian Press Friday the department considered reducing the budgets of all its programs but, instead, decided to axe the team's $60,000 per year budget.
The announcement upset Sue Uteck, a Halifax city councillor and wife of the late Larry Uteck, the university's former football coach and athletic director. She said she would pressure the school to change its mind.
"We need people like Sue Uteck and the alumni to be on our side with this," MacLennan said. "We hope the rally tomorrow will be a huge help."
MacLennan is joined by Beaver Brook's Carla Little and Salmon River native Jillian MacIsaac as Colchester County players affected by the decision. MacIsaac, a goaltender, is finishing the fifth year of her arts degree while Little, a defenceman, is completing her fourth.
MacLennan is set to graduate with a degree in accounting this spring and was planning to return for a fifth year. Friday's announcement, however, has put those plans up in the air.
"If there's no team I'll probably get out in the real world," she said. "But a lot of the jobs I've applied for are all student jobs so I won't be able to do them if I'm not a student."
The decision, and it's timing, have left the current players' futures in limbo, but also those who planned to start at the school in the fall. Players now have to decide whether to attend the university and give up hockey next fall or find another school where they can continue to be student athletes. But with exams just around the corner, most campuses have already completed the recruiting process. Saint Mary's staff has offered to assist players wishing to transfer.
MacLennan said the announcement was particularly surprising considering the program's success both on and off the ice. The Huskies won the AUS title in 2009-10 and posted a fourth-place finish at the CIS championships, the program's best ever. She also noted women's hockey is still growing by leaps and bounds.
"I couldn't believe the words coming out of their mouths," MacLennan said. "All 21 of us were just in tears."
MacLennan said although the players don't want to see any other program cut, it was unfair to place the burden solely on women's hockey.
"They told us they weren't going to eliminate football or men's hockey. So it's OK to cut women's hockey? It's frustrating and I don't think it's right."