SMU women’s hockey still alive

Saint Mary’s University is “pausing”in its decision to cut the women’s hockey program.

By Mary Cameron

Saint Mary's women's hockey team was joined on campus by supporters on Monday night at a rally to save their team (Mary Cameron photo).

Saint Mary’s University is “pausing”in its decision to cut the women’s hockey program.

People young and old gathered outside the McNally building on  Saint Mary’s  campus Monday at 6 p.m. to rally in support of the Huskies women’s team.

On Friday, Saint Mary’s said it would be cutting the women’s team to save money.

Steve Sarty the athletics director at Saint Mary’s said the university asked the athletics department to cut 5 to 10 per cent of its operating budget.

“It’s awful. It’s terrible. It’s not something we want to do. I hope people will understand it was a very difficult decision and it’s not something that I hope to ever have to do again, nor did I want to do it this time, but it’s a necessary decision,” Sarty told The Canadian Press.

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Saint Mary’s Athletics
Canadian Press article

Sarty says the athletics department considered reducing the budget of every sports team on campus, but decided against it saying that this would put all teams at a competitive disadvantage. The women’s hockey team’s annual operational budget is the highest among women’s varsity teams at Saint Mary’s  and  Sarty says it brings in “negligible revenue”.

Seyara Shwetz, a graduating player for the Saint Mary’s University Huskies, believes there’s a better solution than eliminating women’s hockey. “I absolutely believe that there’s a stronger solution,” she said. “I feel that if we had appealed to our alumni and to the community, then a solution could have been found in raising the funds that we needed to keep all of our teams competitive and alive.”

Head coach Lisa Jordan has been with the  team since it began 14 years ago. She’s  earned coaching awards at the Canadian Interuniversity Sports level, as well as assistant and head coaching positions at the national level. The team has won four Atlantic University Sports titles, the most recent in 2010. If the school does finally cut the program, it will be losing its only female coach among the full-time coaching staff.

Supporters of all ages came out to the rally on Monday night, including Danica Scully, daughter of Natalie, a Saint Mary's University hockey alumni (Mary Cameron photo).

Joanne Hughes, Chair of the Female Council of Hockey Nova Scotia, says Jordan and the Saint Mary’s women’s hockey team have been very active in the community.

“Lisa would run development camps in the summer and do 3-on-3 hockey. I mean she’s done a tremendous amount for the community. I probably couldn’t give you as much as she’s done, because every time I turn around there’s something different. She’s extremely community-minded,” said Hughes.

The women Huskies have done on-ice and dry-land development training with minor hockey girls, and have involved them in warm-ups before Huskies games and scrimmages between periods.

“They look at the girls from Saint Mary’s and that’s what they strive to play,” says Hughes. “We don’t have junior hockey and the Q [Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] hockey and all that kind of stuff. So when the girls leave minor hockey, the next step for them in their hockey development would be to play university hockey. They’re looking at these girls as role models, they’re looking up to these girls who’ve achieved what they want to achieve.”

Seyara Shwetz talks about the effect that cutting the Saint Mary’s women’s hockey program will have on female hockey in Nova Scotia:

Sey Shwetz- SMU clip

The effect of cutting the women’s hockey program at Saint Mary’s University would be devastating to female hockey in Nova Scotia, says Hughes. Not only would there be one less program for minor hockey players to advance to, but a loss in the program would also result in a loss of future coaches, trainers, and development staff coming from graduating Saint Mary’s University players.

While Shwetz and the eight other graduating players have finished their university careers, if the program is cut, the remaining players will have to choose whether  to transfer to another university. Saint Mary’s has offered assistance in helping players looking to move, yet Shwetz says it would be a challenging choice to make.

“I think that we’re all competitive athletes that have a strong chance of playing on any team in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports). I just don’t know if any girl wants to pull on a different jersey, go through being a rookie again, lose the family that she has here… Pretty heartbreaking stuff,” says Shwetz.

Through emails and  phone calls, supporters of women’s hockey have spoken their minds. As SMU officials deliberate, the final decision remains on “pause” for the time being.

Watch as Saint Mary’s University hockey player Seyara Shwetz reads a letter from a young female hockey player who dreams of playing for Saint Mary’s. The letter was read on Monday evening at Saint Mary’s University campus during a rally to keep the women’s hockey program from being cut.