To cut, or not to cut?

Teams on the chopping block include ice hockey, fencing, track and field

Men’s hockey coach Brett Gibson outside the ruins of Jock Harty Arena. The arena’s loss may lead to ice hockey being cut.
Men’s hockey coach Brett Gibson outside the ruins of Jock Harty Arena. The arena’s loss may lead to ice hockey being cut.
Photo: 
Greg Nonato, the men’s sabre captain of the fencing team, lunges forward in a practice. The fencing program is in danger of losing its status as a fully funded interuniversity team.
Greg Nonato, the men’s sabre captain of the fencing team, lunges forward in a practice. The fencing program is in danger of losing its status as a fully funded interuniversity team.
Photo: 
The figure skating team practicing last year. They were ranked 14th by the review, which proposed keeping 10 to 16 teams.
The figure skating team practicing last year. They were ranked 14th by the review, which proposed keeping 10 to 16 teams.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Men’s hockey captain Jeff Ovens said he is disappointed with the 14th-place ranking the University’s Review of Athletics and Recreation gave men’s hockey.

“At first, I was just shocked,” he said. “When it settled in, I was just really worried, because we have guys that are coming in as first-years that are committing to the program. I was worried for those guys.”

The University’s Review of Athletics and Recreation proposes reducing the number of fully-funded interuniversity varsity teams to between 10 and 16, down from the present 24. According to the review’s recommendations, more funding would be channelled to the remaining teams to improve their chances of success.

The current fully-funded teams ranked lower than 10th by the review include both ice hockey teams, track and field, figure skating, women’s rugby, swimming, women’s lacrosse, fencing and

field hockey.

Ovens said he thinks the idea behind the review is sound.

“I think it’s a great step forward,” he said. “In order to compete, Queen’s needs to take drastic measures, and I think this is the first step towards putting together a competitive athletic program.”

Ovens said it’s necessary to keep the hockey programs going to be able to field strong teams once the Queen’s Centre is finished.

“Especially with a new multi-million dollar rink going up, we want to be able to put a competitive team in there,” he said. “It would be really hard to do that if the hockey program was dropped for a number of years.”

Ovens said the review puts extra pressure on the team to perform this season.

“We want to prove to people that this matters to us,” he said.

Men’s hockey head coach Brett Gibson said he disagrees with the criteria used to rank the teams.

“I think a lot more needed to go into how we were ranked,” he said. “I think they did a great job with the time they had and the effort they spent, but if you look at the overall picture, I can’t see Canada’s sport being ranked number 14.”

Women’s hockey goalie Katie Boyd said she was also startled by her team’s 11th-place ranking.

“It’s a bit shocking in some respects to see where we fall in respect to the other teams, but I know there’s a lot of things they’re taking into consideration,” she said.

A major reason the review gave for hockey’s low rankings was the cost of travel and renting ice while they have no home arena.

Jock Harty Arena was demolished this year, and the teams are splitting home games between Kingston’s Memorial Centre and Napanee’s Strathcona Paper Centre. The review estimated it would cost $700,000 a year to operate both hockey teams without a home arena.

Boyd said she hopes the team’s recent success will allow them to survive the cuts.

“We’ve made it to the final four for the last four or five years now, so I’m hoping that will play into how we’re rated when the final review comes out in December,” she said.

On June 27, when the review was officially released, Principal Karen Hitchcock announced she would be holding a consultation process on its recommendations for the remainder of the year, and wouldn’t make any final decisions until the end of the year.

Gibson said the review served as a signal that the program needs to get fans and alumni to pass support for the program to Hitchcock.

“It was a good wake-up call for us,” he said. “We need to show why men’s hockey is an important part of Queen’s history, and it has worked. We’ve started an alumni committee to prove that this school can’t go without hockey.”

The review’s rankings looked at teams’ performances over the past three seasons. Women’s figure skating co-captain Katie Farrow said the review should have taken teams’ long-term performance into account.

“It has to be understood that teams operate in a cyclical fashion, where there are rebuilding years and years where the team is really strong,” she said.

“In the past, the varsity figure skating team has had a very strong track record—we’ve won 15 out of the last 30 OUA championships.”

The review recommends developing sport clubs, which could include interuniversity teams that aren’t selected for full funding.

Farrow said figure skating, which tied for 14th with men’s hockey, might be able to continue in a competitive club framework.

“I know that teams such as Carleton are operating as a competitive club, and they do get the chance to travel to two out of the three competitions throughout the season,” she said.

However, Farrow said the costs associated with not having a home arena would hurt the team’s chances as a club.

The inability to host home events also hurt the field hockey team, which was ranked 24th, and the track and field team, ranked 12th.

Braden Novakowski, a distance runner for the track and field team, said the review should have included more criteria.

“There were some other things that they certainly could have looked at,” he said. “That being said, I guess with the nature of the review and the way that they’re planning on doing things, the method that they set out was appropriate for their cause.”

Joanne Ko, the women’s épée captain of the Gaels’ fencing team, said the review wasn’t reflective of teams’ performance, and was biased towards major CIS sports.

“If you look at their assessment measures, it was following criteria based on if it was a CIS sport, how much money it was bringing in, and other things like that,” she said. “How many medals you received was given significantly less weighting. ... That sort of goes against the excellence model.”

The review also proposed setting up a fund to support elite athletes who can compete nationally or internationally, which athletes could apply for whether their sport was offered by Queen’s or not. Leslie Dal Cin, chair of athletics and recreation, would administer the fund.

“I think that to be successful in any sport, you have to have fabulous athletes. They’re the centrepiece of the equation,” Dal Cin said.

“I think that when you have a talented athlete, that they have aspirations and any experience that they get and are provided with should allow them to advance and get to the next level.”

Dal Cin said there’s already a process in place to partially fund gifted athletes competing for Canada at events such as world championships.

However, Dal Cin said it’s unlikely money would actually go to an athlete who could compete nationally or internationally in a sport not offered at Queen’s.

“I think that we would … look to support athletes who are actively involved at the University and contributing to our programs in the first instance,” she said. “If we had lots of funds left over, which would be very much a delight, then we would probably consider that kind of plan.”

Ko, who is a nationally ranked fencer, said she would apply for support from the new fund whether or not the fencing team was cut.

“Regardless of what happened to fencing, I would still attempt to apply for that.”

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