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UND women's hockey team, coach not ready to throw in towel

The end of women's hockey at the UND was supposed to be a done deal. The women's program, along with men's and women's swimming, was slashed on March 29 in order to meet UND president Mark Kennedy's directive to eliminate $1.3 million from the sc...

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The end of women's hockey at the UND was supposed to be a done deal.

The women's program, along with men's and women's swimming, was slashed on March 29 in order to meet UND president Mark Kennedy's directive to eliminate $1.3 million from the school's athletic budget. The move was part of an ongoing wave of cuts brought on by the state's declining tax revenue, triggered in large part by a massive downturn in North Dakota's oil industry.

In recent days, however, there has been a ray of hope as supporters and team members looked for a way to save the program

The team created a social media campaign with the hashtag #NeverEndTheFight to raise public awareness of their plight and UND's most prominent female hockey alums - U.S. national team members Jocelyn and Monique Lamoureux - sent Kennedy and athletic director Brian Faison a letter asking that women's hockey be reinstated.

Fighting Hawks women's head coach Brian Idalski, who has been working feverishly behind the scenes to drum up support, was asked if there is any realistic hope the UND program can be saved.

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"Honesty, I'm not sure," said Idalski Thursday morning. "But as student athletes, there's been many games where our players were heavy underdogs and you still show up and give your best effort. There's some honor and valor in that, and I really think that's what this situation is."

Pushing back

After the announcement, the players' initial shock and despair turned to anger and growing resolve to reverse the university's decision.

"I think from the moment the announcement came, I'm not sure they fully expected the pushback," Idalski said. "I think they had expected that we would move on (and) move on quickly because of some of the panic created about other opportunities. The resolve of our young women, after a couple of days, it was quite apparent that looking at other opportunities and things, how difficult that was for them. Because this is where they wanted to be.

"Opportunities for other people were important to maintain, and they started to look at the bigger picture and the fibers of hockey and what this means to the NCAA and what this means to international hockey and the players we've had that go on to ... represent their countries and have some success on the international stage, really opportunities for youth players all across the U.S. and Canada."

Operating an NCAA Division I women's program is an expensive proposition. One published report had women's hockey at UND costing $2 million per season and the expense of generating an endowment capable of funding the program long term at $35 million to $40 million.

Idalski has been crunching the numbers and said those numbers are too high, suggesting his recruiting, travel and equipment budget was about $500,000 this season with a similar amount spent on salaries and support staff.

"Making some cuts internally and adjustments internally, I'm looking at personally $1.3 million to operating a first-class operation and high-end program," Idalski said. "Some of the other numbers, I don't know realistically know where that's coming from and how that's calculated."

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No white flag

After 10 seasons as head coach at UND, Idalski isn't prepared to surrender. He has turned a program that didn't win a conference game in his first season into a perennial national power by recruiting aggressively in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

"This current budget crisis is temporary," Idalski said. "Already oil production has increased 40 percent within the state, and expectations are that production will double this summer. That's going to alleviate a lot of problems. I think that's going to stabilize budgets from the Legislature on the state side. My goal is to buy us a couple of years to solve that situation, alleviate that problem, try to take care of ourselves. Open the conversation and work towards endowing the program. I think that's a great long-term solution, but that is not a short-term solution. Once this (program) goes away, it's not coming back. And if it does and they try to bring it back, I know how long and how painful it was to get us to this point."

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