It is hard for Abby Schauer to talk about what happened at U.N.D. Growing up in Grand Forks, she dreamed of wearing the Kelly green and white of the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. Her parents had men’s and women’s hockey season tickets.
“I’ve been going to games for as long as I can remember,” she said.
In high school, Schauer seemed on her way. She made all-state as a freshman forward for the KnightRiders, a team drawn from the two Grand Forks high schools. (The nickname combines Grand Forks Central Knights and Red River Roughriders.) Seeking tougher competition to prepare for Division I, Schauer left two years ago to play Tier 1 hockey for the Northern Cyclones, based in New Hampshire. The news of U.N.D.’s decision broke her heart.
Recently, while the Schauers packed for a move to another house in Grand Forks, her mother, Sally, discovered Abby’s thick journal from first grade. It contained a crayon drawing Abby made of herself playing hockey, with a haunting caption using creative spelling: “When I grow up I will play college hockey and then go pro. I will play for the Sioux and be the goaly. I will lead them to the championship.”
Last month, Schauer pinned it to her Twitter account and tagged U.N.D.’s president, Mark Kennedy.
“It’s hard. It’s sad,” said Schauer, a junior, who is now playing Tier 1 with the Madison Capitols in Wisconsin. “I left here so I could play college hockey in my hometown. I sacrificed my high school years so I could play here. It was my goal.”
U.N.D. dropped women’s hockey, baseball, men’s golf, and men’s and women’s swimming in a two-year wave of athletics budget cuts brought on by a state revenue shortfall. Men’s golf was reinstated with outside financing. Most worrisome for women’s hockey boosters, North Dakota is the third Division I member to shutter its women’s program since 2011; Wayne State and Niagara are the others.
But it’s especially troublesome here in a cradle of the game. College hockey players are rock stars in Grand Forks, unable to go to the grocery store without being recognized. Miller, the KnightRiders’ assistant, said girls’ teams had regularly attended U.N.D. women’s games at opulent Ralph Engelstad Arena, known locally as the Ralph. Players were often asked for and gladly signed autographs, and conducted clinics.
“For our youth girls’ team, skating side by side with those girls was exceptional,” Miller said. “Now we don’t have that anymore. You don’t have those positive female role models to look up to. It’s a huge loss in the community.”
The KnightRiders drew about 200 fans for a recent Saturday afternoon game with Jamestown at Eagles Arena, a small municipal rink with a jungle gym next to the trophy case. The night before, more than 2,000 packed into Purpur Arena, named for Fido, to watch the city’s undefeated boys’ hockey teams, Grand Forks Central and Red River, play to a 2-2 tie.
Kilgore, the Lamoureux sisters’ bantam coach, wonders if girls can adjust their aspirations to be KnightRiders instead of Fighting Hawks, and whether that will be enough to keep girls’ hockey relevant in a vibrant hockey state.