The past month hasn’t been great for Abigail Thiessen.
The 18-year-old defenceman from Red Deer was living her dream while playing for the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team.
All that changed when it was announced UND had cut the women’s team because of budget restraints.
“We were aware of the budget and there would be some changes, but we didn’t ever think we would be on that list,” Thiessen explained in a telephone interview. “North Dakota is a big hockey state and hockey is huge at UND.
“So when it came down that we were cut, we were all stunned.”
Thiessen and her teammates did everything in their power to find a way to reverse the decision.
“We had a lot of backing. It started on social media and there were a lot of calls to the president. In fact there were so many calls he turned his phone off.”
One of the girls on the team finally arranged a meeting with the president, but before that came about the president contacted the coach and said he could look after it.
“We were told we would have to come up with $35 million then we discovered we would need $60 million in the endowment fund to keep the program alive. That’s where it finished. That’s a lot of money at any time.”
Thiessen, who just finished her freshman season with the UND Fighting Hawks, has looked at other options.
“I looked at other teams in our conference (WCHA) , but they’re already carrying a full roster and don’t have the money for more players. There are a couple of teams in the east that I’m looking at.”
Thiessen could return to Canada and play at the U-Sport level, or even college, but that’s not something she’s looking at.
“I’ll keep that in the back burner. It was my dream to play NCAA and I was at my dream school before the cuts, so I want to continue in the NCAA and won’t give up yet.”
But the news wasn’t all bad for Thiessen. She was one of 30 players invited to the Team Canada development team’s strength and conditioning camp in May.
“I got the invitation just after our program was cut, so there was some positive news,” she said. “I’m excited to be recognized.”
Thiessen, who spent four years with the Red Deer Sutter Fund midget AAA Chiefs, did attend the Team Canada U18 strength and conditioning camp, so it won’t be new to her.
“I do know what to expect. It’s mainly fitness testing and conditioning.”
It’s the first step toward making the national senior team and eventually the Olympics.
“That’s something to strive for,” said Thiessen, who will miss not having Mairead Bast at the camp. Bast, who played Red Deer minor hockey with Thiessen, played with UBC and was invited but won’t be able to attend.
“Too bad she couldn’t make it, plus it would have been nice to have a friend there.”
Thiessen came up through the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association and joined the midget AAA Chiefs when she was 14. In her third season she played a major role with the Chiefs in their silver medal performance at the 2015 ESSO Cup, which was held at the Red Deer Arena.
Her first year with the Fighting Hawks went well.
“It was good. I started a bit slow as it’s a big transition from Red Deer minor hockey to this level. It took a while for me to adjust, but I got a lot of help and good coaching and I found my game. I played in all but three or four games.”
Thiessen was always had an offensive side to her game, but she wasn’t concentrating on her statistics as she played 35 games and finished with four assists.
“A goal would have been nice, but I wasn’t worried about that. That would have been an added bonus. I concentrated on getting used to the speed of the game and concentrated on defence. The rest will come.”
Thiessen was always good in school, as she was an honour student at Notre Dame High School.
“The schooling and the hockey were certainly a change, but I was able to adjust,” she added.
Thiessen isn’t sure when she may return to Red Deer.
“Possibly by the middle of May, or I can take a course that’s already paid for and then I won’t be home until the end of June … we’ll see.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.