TRU hockey shuts down

WolfPack men faced an uneven playing field and recruitment issues: Olynyk

The WolfPack men’s hockey team won’t hit the ice this year – or next year, for that matter.

A funding shortfall has ended the hockey program as TRU has known it since the 2009-10 season, when the team first appeared in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL).

Carrying a deficit into the year, the program’s board of directors was unsure of their situation when they met in the spring. Then, the decision was made to increase player fees, up from $1,500 to $2,400 per player. Following the changes, the board decided it would reassess in December.

But they didn’t make it to December. Some players were unwilling to pay the increased fees and funding became an even more pressing issue. Finally, on July 29, the decision was made to cease hockey operations.

TRU athletics director Ken Olynyk (Image courtesy  WolfPack Athletics)

TRU athletics director Ken Olynyk (Image courtesy WolfPack Athletics)

“There were a number of prospective players and current players that decided they didn’t want to pay that [amount], so they were either not going to play hockey or look to transfer elsewhere,” TRU athletics director Ken Olynyk said. “When that all came down, we decided that as a board it wasn’t feasible to continue. We weren’t going to have the funds to continue the program at the level we wanted, and we had only 12-15 players committed.”

Because of the departure, the BCIHL will proceed with the 2014-15 season with just five teams.

“We’re sorry to lose a valued member that has provided high-quality competition in our league for the past five years,” said BCIHL president Kim Verigin in a press release. “The timing and circumstances surrounding TRU’s decision are unfortunate and disappointing, but it’s important at times like these to focus on the many areas where the league has made great strides in the areas of competitive growth and stability.”

In terms of timing, the shutdown came abruptly. TRU athletics announced its latest signing, 19-year-old Desmond Bast out of Langford, B.C., just 12 days before things came to an end.

As for the circumstances, the issue of recruiting was made difficult for TRU because of the “player pay” model it had to use. Other institutions have varsity teams where the institution (or another benefactor) helps cover the costs. TRU had trouble fitting into what the BCIHL has become.

“I don’t think it’s an even playing field when some institutions have player fees and others don’t.”

Ken Olynyk, TRU athletics director

“When the proposal first came forward, probably 8-9 years ago from Simon Fraser University, the idea was that it was going to be a ‘player pay’ league, almost like a select intramural team, but then it just continued to grow,” Olynyk said.

“The initial proposal was not what we have today. It might be what people wanted, but it wasn’t what the proposal was.”

The WolfPack joined the BCIHL for the 2009-10 season and was a league finalist in 2010 and 2011, never missing the playoffs. In the 2013-14 season, the ‘Pack went 9-14-0-1 and was eliminated in the first round by the Selkirk College Saints.

“I think the team itself played very well in the earlier years, and continued to do so – the other teams got very strong,” Olynyk said.

“I don’t think it’s an even playing field when some institutions have player fees and others don’t. When you look at leagues, it’s no different than when you look at pro sport, and they have salary caps. The whole idea is that you try to level the playing field to make it competitive and exciting for everyone.”

A return to the BCIHL isn’t out of the question, but without a guarantee of funding, Olynyk doesn’t see it happening. The team requires approximately $100,000 in revenue to operate, and he’s looking for a five-year commitment.

“Right now, we’re not going to have hockey back next year. When a decision like this is made, you have to take time away and make sure everything is in place before you bring it back,” Olynyk said.

“The group that initiated hockey at TRU was a strong group, and they did a great job. Now, they’re not going to be involved, so there would have to be a new group to come and make a proposal as to how they’re going to make hockey viable at TRU.”