By Sulz, Dave on April 23, 2020.
The demise of the University of Lethbridge men’s and women’s hockey programs represents a sad event for one of the people who helped lay the foundation for Canada West hockey at the university more than 35 years ago.
Gary Bowie was the university’s athletic director in the early 1980s when a group of local citizens approached the university to offer their support in establishing a men’s hockey team to take part in the Canada West University Athletic Association.
There had been hockey at the university in the school’s earlier years, Bowie recalled, but the team did not participate in conference play, operating instead within a local league.
But the community group had a bigger vision.
“There was a group from the community that really felt it would be a very positive thing to have a hockey program at the U of L,” said Bowie, noting the group included such local luminaries as Jerry LeGrandeur, Phil North and Harry Cox, among others.
“They talked to Neil Little and myself and felt it would be a good thing to do. We weren’t sure at the time if we had the size to be able to do it, or financially. But they were a group who really wanted to see it happen and they were prepared to help raise funds to have a program be put into place.”
After deciding to pursue the endeavour, Bowie was part of a local group which visited the University of North Dakota campus to garner some advice about operating a university-based hockey program.
Brad Cox, Harry’s son, “had played down there,” noted Bowie. “We got some really good ideas from them that helped us determine what we would have to do to help the program take a step forward and to get it moving toward being involved in Canada West.”
It wouldn’t have happened without the impetus of the local community group that proposed the idea.
“These folks stepped up and really stood behind the program,” said Bowie.
The high point of the men’s hockey program came in 1993-94 when the Pronghorns, under the direction of head coach Mike Babcock, captured the CIAU national championship. It was a Cinderella triumph that likely saved the program.
“We had some times where it was difficult to keep the program going,” Bowie admitted, “but people worked at it and came through and worked with us with financing.”
The CIAU championship “came at the perfect time,” said Bowie. “Most everyone at the university got onside with it after that point, big time.”
In spite of the challenges, Bowie felt the hockey program – later followed by women’s hockey – was a positive part of Pronghorn Athletics.
“We always had to work hard to keep things going but it was a good program,” he said, adding it’s saddening to see the program finally fall victim to finances.
“It’s hard to see that happening,” Bowie said. “It’s going to be a real piece of our history… It really connected with people in the community.
“It does leave a very positive legacy.”