By Scott Taylor
Photo by James Carey Lauder
In a shocking move, the University of North Dakota is cutting its women’s hockey program along with its men’s and women’s swimming teams.
This past season, there were three Manitoba players on the roster of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks women’s hockey team – high-scoring freshman star Ryleigh Houston, Canadian national team player and UND captain Halli Krzyzaniak, and Annie Chipman, the third string goalie and the daughter of Winnipeg Jets owner/governor/president Mark Chipman.
Both Chipman and Krzyzaniak will graduate this spring. Their NCAA women’s hockey careers were over. Houston will have to find a new place to play, as will St. Mary’s Flames defenseman Hailey Karbonik, who has committed to UND beginning in 2018-19, and national team member Ashton Bell from Deloraine, who was heading to UND this fall.
According to UND President Mark Kennedy, “The cuts are part of a school-wide effort to trim budgets because of an anticipated drop in state funding.
Kennedy told the athletics department it was required to cut $1.3 million out of its budget and asked athletic director Brian Faison to send him proposals. The proposals are now to cut women’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.
“I’m in shock, total shock,” said Gerry Wilson, the head coach of Winnipeg’s Balmoral Hall Blazers prep hockey team. “That program is a mainstay of women’s college hockey. It’s the place where every Manitoba player wants to play. You play at the Ralph (Engelstad Arena) with those great weight rooms and locker rooms. It’s a great place to play. You seldom hear about these things. Usually, schools are adding programs.”
Wilson believed it was likely his former player, Balmoral Hall grad Ryleigh Houston, would find another place to play.
“Ryleigh is a very talented player and she just had a great year,” said Wilson. “She made the WCHA All-Rookie team so someone will be interested in her, I hope. It should work out for her, but there aren’t many scholarships left at this time of year.”
Mytoba.ca learned on Wednesday afternoon that Houston had been made at least one offer to transfer to another major, highly-regarded NCAA women’s program.
“I don’t find too many issues with these players finding a place to go,” said Balmoral Hall assistant coach Sarah Zacharias. “I’m more concerned about what it means for women’s hockey. That UND program was the place every good Manitoba player wanted to go. To play in the Ralph and be part of the history of that program. It’s a blow to female hockey.”
Coincidentally, this same thing happened to Zacharias herself. She was just completing her senior year at Niagara University when the female players were called into a room and told their hockey program was being cut.
“Yeah, it’s kind of amazing that this happened to me in my senior year,” she said. “Most of the kids were offered an alternative. The coaches have a network and they’ll try to find places for as many kids as they can.”
The UND women’s hockey program started in 2002 and eight UND players, played for three different countries during the 2014 Olympics. As many as 10 members of the current roster (including Krzyzaniak) are thought to be candidates for the 2018 games.