Red Deer’s Luke Coleman, who played nearly half his WHL career with the Calgary Hitmen, played last year for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

With University of Lethbridge hockey program unexpectedly shuttered, local players left pondering future

Bitterly disappointed doesn’t even quite capture how Sage Sansregret is feeling these days.

The first-year forward for what was once a strong women’s hockey program at the University Of Lethbridge has been left to pick of the pieces of a promising future.

The Pronghorns hockey program as a whole was unexpectedly shuttered earlier this week, as a result of budget cuts by the institution based on funding from the provincial government.

Players from the men’s and women’s team received an email from the finance department at the school, in short saying the program was being cut.

“The first words were, the programs were being abolished. To say that your heart drops and your stomach is on the other side of the room, is a bit of an understatement,” said Sansregret, who is from Consort but played Midget AAA hockey for the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs.

“You go through a series of (emotions) shock, disappointment and a sense of betrayal…I only played one year there, but at the same time, I considered that to be my home. It’s basically like having a part of you ripped away.”

Luke Coleman, a Red Deer product playing forward in his first year on the men’s team, wasn’t sure how to process the news at first. It’s still sinking in even this week as he figures out his next step.

“I thought it was just going to be a regular school email. Read it a little bit and was kind of in disbelief. Had to read it over a second time,” said Coleman, who played 297 games in the WHL, more than half of those with the Calgary Hitmen.

“The group chat we had starting blowing up a little bit. Guys didn’t really know what to say. Had a video meeting with the finance people and they were trying to explain it the best they could. We really weren’t getting answers that a lot of guys were hoping to hear.”

Coleman finished his WHL career last year and wanted a place that felt like home, and thought he had found it in Lethbridge.

“I knew a couple of the guys and the coaches were really accommodating with everything I really needed. I’m not from a big city and I like Lethbridge, it reminds me of home, nice campus and it worked out that way when I started. Now it’s different,” said Coleman, who had a productive rookie year with 20 points in 28 games.

Sansregret, who was the rookie of the year for the Pronghorns after posting four goals and six points this season said that’s the hardest part.

After making a commitment to a school for at least the next four years and then all of sudden, out of nowhere, being told if you want to keep playing, you have to up and leave.

“It’s just such a great community down there. Everybody has your back no matter what and I was really excited to be down there for four more years. Spend a lot more time with the girls and spend a lot more time within the community, so it was definitely a heartbreaker,” she said.

She added that most post-secondary institutions have already filled spots for programs next year and most teams have also done their recruiting for next season.

“Bachelor of Sciences have already closed for next year, so that whole aspect of it is just another hill that you have to conquer,” added Sansregret, who is a kinesiology major.

“At the end of the day, you go there for schooling and the plus side is hockey. Right now, to get both is definitely going to be the biggest hill that some of us have ever climbed.”

Both players said beyond the disappointment, is just the fact they weren’t able to play a part in the solution.

“First-year guys might have a chance to transfer somewhere else, but guys that are third and fourth year, it’s almost the end of their hockey career. You feel bad for those guys. There were a couple of guys on our team that were married. They made their lives in Lethbridge. Just blinded and it screws with everyone’s lives,” said Coleman.

Added Sansregret:

“I think everybody was just feeling the same thing. We wanted to know why we didn’t have the opportunity to find different solutions. We asked a lot of different questions and not a lot of questions we asked were really answered. It just leaves a big question mark. Why we were not made a part of this decision and why weren’t we given a chance to fix it.”

Both players hope to continue their hockey careers next season and are continuing to explore options for the 2020-21 season.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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