Sunday, August 10, 2014

Movement Started to Try and Save Thompson Rivers University Hockey:

Just under two weeks ago, it was posted on the Thompson Rivers University Athletics website that the Men's Hockey Team would cease operations for the 2014-15 season.

Here's the release from TRU:

When the curtain goes up on the 2014-15 athletic season at Thompson Rivers University, there will be one less ‘club’ team.

Thompson Rivers University Athletics and Recreation Director Ken Olynyk  has announced that effective immediately, the hockey program is ceasing operations.

“I would like to thank the past and current members of the Hockey Board of Directors for their hard work and tireless effort,” said Olynyk.  “They established this program five years ago for student/athletes who wanted to continue to play competitive hockey while pursuing their education. They made every effort possible to maintain the program to this point, but due to economics and a lack of a sustainable model, we have no choice but to dissolve the program.”

Hockey returned to Thompson Rivers in 2008-09 under the direction of head coach Chris Hans. They finished second in the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League with a record of 16 wins and eight losses.  This past season in the BCIHL, the WolfPack wound up fourth with nine wins and 14 defeats and were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by eventual league champion Selkirk College Saints.  Thompson Rivers have been coached the past three seasons by Don Schulz.

For further information:  Please contact Ken Olynyk   (250) 828-5273 or (250) 320-4263.  kolynyk@tru.ca

The BC Intercollegiate Hockey League also released a statement about TRU's situation:

The British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League regrets to announce that Thompson Rivers University has ceased operations of their school’s Men’s Hockey program effective immediately.

As a result, the BCIHL will operate with five member teams – Eastern Washington University, Selkirk College, Simon Fraser University, Trinity Western University and the University of Victoria – for the 2014/15 hockey season.

"We're sorry to lose a valued member that has provided high-quality competition in our league for the past five years," says BCIHL President Kim Verigin. "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 recent years, the BCIHL has become a premier option for graduating junior hockey players from leagues like the WHL and BCHL to compete at the post-secondary level in their home province.

As well, BCIHL teams have participated in exhibition play with teams from the NCAA and CIS. Last season, Simon Fraser University hosted NCAA Division I heavyweights North Dakota and Princeton in Burnaby, and this season will join Trinity Western University in travelling to face top-level American college opposition south of the border in October.

"The BCIHL has become and will continue to be a tremendous option for student-athletes who are seeking an elite academic and hockey experience," says Verigin. "We will work to assist TRU's existing players in any way possible in order to support them under these difficult circumstances. We will also embark on an aggressive search to identify potential schools to join our league, but ultimately our membership is very satisfied with the level of play and the overall health of the BCIHL."

TRU joined the BCIHL in 2009 and has been a two-time league finalist (2010, 2011) while participating in the league playoffs in each of their five seasons. They finished fourth during regular season play in 2013/14 with a record of 9-14-0-1 and were eliminated by Selkirk College in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs.

"I would like to thank the past and current members of the Hockey Board of Directors for their hard work and tireless effort," says TRU Director of Athletics Ken Olynyk. "They established this program five years ago for student-athletes who wanted to continue to play competitive hockey while pursuing their education. They made every effort possible to maintain the program to this point, but due to economics and a lack of a sustainable model, we have no choice but to dissolve the program."

The BCIHL will announce details of its schedule for the 2014/15 season in the coming days.

Since then, there is a movement to try and save TRU Men's Hockey, not only for this season, but beyond.

Gregg Drinnan, former Sports Editor of the Kamloops Daily News, posted this on his blog (which is located over there on the left) a week ago:

If Trevor Bast has his way, the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) WolfPack hockey team will live a long and fruitful life.
 
Unfortunately, the school’s athletic director buried the team last week.
 
In eliminating the hockey program, Ken Olynyk, TRU’s athletics and recreation director, said: “ . . . due to economics and a lack of a sustainable model, we have no choice but to dissolve the program.”
 
The hockey program started life in 2008-09. It was a club team that was operated by the Kamloops Collegiate Hockey Society. A source familiar with the situation has told Taking Note that the team was $50,000 in debt.
 
Bast, however, isn’t about to give up.
 
“I am determined to start a movement to revive this team,” Bast, who lives in Victoria, told Taking Note on Sunday night.
 
For the last three seasons, the WolfPack’s head coach was Don Schulz. Last season, the WolfPack went 9-14, finishing fourth in the six-team B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League. TRU then lost out in the first round of the playoffs.
 
Bast’s son, Des, was the last recruit signed by the WolfPack. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenceman’s signing was announced via news release on July 17. Bast, 19, split last season between the SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks and the junior B Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior league.
 
“It was a bitter disappointment for our entire family when (the program ended), as well as for the other players involved,” Trevor Bast said. “Just to have a chance to play four more years of competitive hockey and for us to cheer him and his team on for four more years is a thrill only a hockey family can relate to. Having that pulled out from under you suddenly leaves a huge void.”
 
Hockey or not, Des still plans on attending TRU, where he will study architectural and engineering technology, a program his father said “is quite unique and not offered in many places.”
 
But when Trevor Bast looked at what happened to the hockey program, he said, “I can't help but think this was a completely avoidable situation.”
 
The way he figures it, $40,000 would have saved the team.
 
“There is too much money in the hockey world for $40,000 to take down a university program -- club, varsity or otherwise,” he said. “The thing that jumps out at me is the hockey team ran on a $100,000 budget. With a full roster at last year’s player fee of $1,500 that covers approx 40 per cent.
 
“That leaves $60,000 for the team, the foundation and the university to make up via grants, sponsorship, fundraising, etc. At the end of the day, the announced shortfall was $40,000 and a plan for sustainability was not in place.
 
“Of those 20 or so players who suddenly lost this team, if eight of them decide to not attend school at all due to this, that is eight too many. That is life- and career-altering.”
 
Bast is determined to find out whether there is money available for a program such as this.
 
“There is a sustainable model out there,” he said. “There is money out there in the form of corporate sponsorship and a huge network of multi-millionaire pros from the B.C. Interior. There are great business minds with a passion for hockey and higher education who could lend expertise to creating a sustainable model. TRU has a business and marketing program that is the envy of other larger institutions.”
 
Starting right now, Bast said, the fight is on try and save the program.
 
“I, like everyone else, have a lot more ideas and questions than answers right now,” he said, “but the solution is out there and it is worth fighting for.
 
“I believe this team will be revived and I will do whatever I can to get behind the cause.”
 
Bast may be reached by email at  trevorbast@gmail.com

Drinnan posted an update on his Taking Note blog this part Thursday:

A move to raise the Kamloops-based Thompson Rivers University (TRU) WolfPack hockey team from the ashes may be gaining steam.
 
The team, which had operated as club team as opposed to a university varsity team, was about $50,000 in debut when TRU athletic director Ken Olynyk pulled the plug last week.
 
On Thursday, a Twitter account belonging to TRU Men’s Ice Hockey sent these three tweets:
 
“Ex players, family, friends and fans, or anyone with good reasoning as to why this program needs to continue are encouraged to contact . . .
. . . TRU head of Sports Finances, Matthew Milovick, via e-mail (mmilovick@tru.ca) and explain how the dissolving of the team has affected . . .
. . . them personally, the players, the university, or the community itself. Thank-you in advance, everyone. Let's see what we can do!”
 
Trevor Bast of Victoria, whose son Des was the last recruit signed by the WolfPack before the end came, followed that up with: “I am happy to start the rally but we need a lot of boots on the ground to see this through. Let’s leave it all out there.”
 
Later, Bast told Taking Note that “there is some social media momentum growing to save the program.”
 
In the early going, Bast said he is trying to get out the message that, yes, the TRU hockey program was of the pay-to-play variety, but that “when you compare it to going to the U.S. and playing NCAA Division III it is still a bargain and the hockey is better.

“TRU has to be up front about the fact players have to pay. I don't believe it puts the program at a disadvantage recruiting-wise. They still can approach a top end junior B player or a depth junior A player and tell them they can play collegiate hockey close to home in front of friends and family in a lot of cases all for $10,000 to $12,000 inclusive of tuition, lodging and hockey.
 
“Compare that to what families are paying to play NCAA Division III and it's a bargain, plus the hockey is better . . . as well, the education is better and more applicable.”
 
That is Bast’s message. Time will tell how it is received.
 
(If you would like to contact Bast, you are able to email him at trevorbast@gmail.com.) 

And now Trevor Bast has penned an open letter to TRU Athletics Director Ken Olynyk, he sent it to me in hopes that I would let you read it and help gain support for the TRU Men's Hockey Team:

Good Morning Ken. I have to say this last week has been very enlightening for me. I've talked to some terrific people, I've discovered I have some gumption that I didn't know I had, but most of all I know there is a passion for hockey at TRU and if it doesn't happen this season it will be back soon. I had a great 90 min conversation with Andre Larouche yesterday and got a complete history lesson on TRU hockey. Talking to Andre confirmed what I already felt, mistakes have been made but hockey can work at TRU and more importantly it belongs at TRU.

From my perspective (and many others but I won't speak for them) many of the final road blocks that stalled the program where just products of a negative culture that swept through the hockey operations and created strained relationships with all of the departments involved. The biggest one I have seen is the contention that TRU Hockey is at a recruiting disadvantage because they have players fees. Of course if that's the attitude one leads with it will absolutely hinder recruiting. I can spin several reasons why TRU is the best place to play hockey in the BCIHL without even breaking a sweat. We could charge $1900 and still sell the program.

-an entire year of education,housing and hockey is a fraction of what families pay to send their son to Division III schools in the US. We have to get that message out there.
-TRU is the most well rounded of all the Schools in the BCIHL. From upgrading, to trades, certificates, diplomas, degrees, post graduate, culinary, science,nursing, arts and on and on. SFU and Uvic can't boast this type of diversity. Selkirk has to recruit half a team each year due to having 1 and 2 year programs.
-Kamloops is a perfect size city and it's location makes it accessible for families to visit and attend games.

I won't go on, I'm sure you get my point. Ken, these are hockey operations issues. These can and will be fixed. This program just needs a few dedicated volunteers at different points of the province shaking hands with players, parents and coaches and selling the TRU story. Not unlike how you recruit for your Varsity sports. One of the big differences is that hockey families are used to spending their money, you just have to build value into it.

The last point I want to touch on is what those 25 or so students mean to the school economically. You and I touched on this and it was you who gave me the economic benefit a single student brings to the community and the school. Multiply that by 25 and I am still perplexed at how this could not be resonating further up the food chain at TRU. This is a team of 25 or so students who, with a few exceptions are now here today gone tomorrow along with their money. I thought this was about money. Obviously it's not all about money.

I know if an olive branch is extended and this season is saved, we have time to recruit a team. The society has not been dissolved and mistakes made will not be repeated.

Ken, hockey is our national sport, BC and Kamloops love the game. It is a sport where underdogs are glorified. Those who persevere are honoured and rewarded. Hockey players and those who love hockey are cut from a different cloth. Character is a pre requisite and those without it are quickly weeded out. Give these kids,families and the society another chance and they will not look back. I imagine what you need is a program that runs itself as much as possible and that hasn't been the case the last couple years.  I believe this can be the case moving forward. Please help us find a way.

Regards,
Trevor Bast

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