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Raygan Kirk “Still in Shock” as RMU Pulls Plug on Hockey Program

Photos by Justin Berl and Dave Holland

Raygan Kirk “Still in Shock” as RMU Pulls Plug on Hockey Program

Ste. Anne’s Raygan Kirk has had herself yet another sensational season of hockey. One season removed from an MVP and gold medal-winning performance at the IIHF Women’s World U-18s, the 20-year-old goaltender put together another winning season for the Robert Morris University Colonials.

Little did she know, 2020-21 would be her last with the program.

On Wednesday morning, RMU announced on social media that both the men’s and women’s Division I hockey programs would cease operations, effective immediately. According to Kirk, the teams held a joint Zoom meeting roughly 15 minutes before news broke, to which players and coaches alike were caught fully off-guard.

“I am still in shock,” Kirk told Game On Wednesday evening. “We were left in the dark until mid-day this morning. We got an email telling us to hop on a team Zoom call. An hour after that I had to head into work and try to recuperate and keep my mind off of it. I work at a golf course and luckily it was a slow day, which helped keep my mind off of it. Or else I would have probably just sat at home and cried like a lot of my teammates did.”

Within the release, RMU athletics indicated that roughly 55 student-athletes and seven staff members were affected by the elimination of the program. Despite the cuts, the university does plan on honouring all scholarships awarded to current student-athletes and will help “assist those who wish to transfer”.

“Robert Morris University announced today it will no longer field NCAA Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey teams,” the release read. “This move comes as a part of a series of strategic initiatives intended to position the university to be amongst the most agile and professionally focused schools in the nation as it prepares for its upcoming 100th anniversary.”

Finishing within College Hockey America’s top-three teams each of the past six seasons – including a stretch of three years as the No. 1 team through the regular season – RMU actually won the CHA championship game last season. Leading the charge? None other than Kirk, who picked up the 1-0 shutout en route to the Colonials promotion to the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

“For a team that is at the bottom of the standings, this would be a bit more understandable,” the 5-foot-8 netminder said in disbelief. “But we have been at the top and we are competing. It’s just so frustrating. Like just few weeks back I said goodbye to my teammates at the end of the year, but it was a ‘goodbye, I’ll see you in the fall’, not a ‘goodbye, who knows the next time I’ll see you again’, kind of thing.”

Despite a strong support system back home in Ste. Anne and a number of good friends and family members who have reached out, Kirk can’t help but think back to the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, which saw its women’s program cut in March of 2017.

“I’ve had friends, Kristen Campbell and Sarah Lecavalier from UND, and you know what happened to them,” the former Eastman Selects AAA star reflected. “Like you reach out to them at the time and tell them how sorry you were, but you never thought it would be you, and here I am. But luckily they have reached out to show their support. It’s kind of sad that it happened once and now it’s happening again; there are other schools its happening to as well. It’s just really unfortunate.”

Through two seasons of NCAA play, Kirk owns a 23-6-9 record with a sparkling .931 save percentage, an even 2.00 goals against average and a seven shutouts to her name. Although undecided on what will come next, the 20-year-old will certainly have a long list of suitors.

“I think it’s a little soon,” she said on her plans going forward. “It’s a bit overwhelming to think about it. But I think a lot of us will try going on the transfer portal – which is hectic enough right now because of covid – and you hope to find a home somewhere else. But right now, just to see the support from alumni, other students and athletes from other sports just come together, it has been really uplifting. We will be missed, that’s for sure, and I will miss that program so much and my teammates especially.”

Officially back home in Manitoba from Pittsburgh, Kirk plans to continue with her work at Oakwood Golf Club for the time being. That is, until COVID-19 restrictions are loosened within the province. By then, the young netminder hopes that some ice will be available and accessible to her in hopes of continuing with her training for the 2021-22 season – wherever that will be.

“We are just living in a different world than the States right now,” she laughed. “I was really looking forward to going back. But who knows what’ll happen. Hopefully things open up here and I can at least get on the ice. That’s what I know how to do, and it doesn’t matter where I go.”

 

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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