TRU WolfPack hockey program nixed

The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack hockey team will not take to the ice this season.

In June, it seemed the strapped-for-cash hockey program would survive another season, but Ken Olynyk, TRU’s athletic director, has confirmed that is not the case.

“The decision was based on sustainability, on being able to raise the funds that were necessary to run the program,” Olynyk said.

“When a number of the student-athletes weren’t willing to commit to the fees — which is their prerogative and it’s understandable — then it was felt by the board that, really, we should just cease operation of the program  for the time being.”

Student-athletes on club teams at TRU are required to pay fees in order to play, which is not the case with the school’s Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) varsity counterparts.

The hockey squad, a club team that has played in the B.C Intercollegiate Hockey League since 2008, was faced with operating deficits following the 2013-2014 season and had what head coach Don Schulz called a few “stressful moments” working to keep the team afloat financially.

In order to survive, the team was forced to increase per-player fees to about $2,400 from about $1,500.

There was still a shortfall of about $40,000, which was expected to be drummed up through fundraising, an area that has plagued the WolfPack hockey team.

The efforts made by Olynyk, Schulz and André Larouche of the Kamloops Collegiate Hockey Society appeared to have bought the team another season — and that was the impression its players were under.

Ryan Hanes, a former member of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers who signed on to play next season with the WolfPack, was caught off guard when KTW called him on Tuesday, July 29.

“I had no idea,” Hanes said.

“I thought after we had a conference call about the increase, money-wise, everyone said we’re good to go and we’ll pay the money. I thought it was all good, but I guess not.

“I guess we’re going to be stuck on the Oronge Lunatics [an Ice Box Arena men’s league team] this year.”

It’s no secret TRU athletics is pushing into the future, focusing on growing its stable of CIS teams, but Olynyk said shuttering the WolfPack hockey program had nothing to do with that side of the sports ledger.

“That wasn’t involved in the decision,” he said. “Our commitment had not changed at all.”

Olynyk had yet to receive feedback from TRU hockey players when he spoke with KTW on Tuesday.

“I haven’t had any from them yet,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. I think it’s unfortunate, but I think also there’s a realization by all of them that, OK, this was a possibility.”

The WolfPack brass was still recruiting players this month, with a TRU press release announcing the signing of defenceman Desmond Bast of Langford on July 17.

Schulz and Larouche did not return calls before KTW’s press time on Wednesday, July 30.

Baseball is the only remaining club team at the Kamloops university.