PROVO (ABC4) – When the BYU Cougars take the ice for a pair of games this weekend at the Peaks Ice Arena, they’ll do so with a tinge of soberness.
In June, the team, consisting entirely of students at BYU, announced that it would be playing its final season with an affiliation and blessing from the school.
While there have since been a few more conversations between the team’s coaches, players, and the university’s Student Life department, it appears fairly possible that the team will be forced to retire their oval-Y emblazoned sweaters and seize referring to themselves as BYU hockey and will have to go by a different name, the Provo IceCats.
Unless something dramatically changes in an ongoing discussion between the club team and the university it represents, it’ll be the last time they play as the Brigham Young University hockey team.
“If it doesn’t happen, it won’t be for a lack of effort on both sides,” head coach David Pitcher says of the team’s communication with the univeristy.
For Pitcher, who also has a son on the team, Teagan, it would be emotional to cut ties with the school’s colors, name, and logo after this weekend.
“It’s gonna be real tough,” Pitcher says to ABC4.com. “It’ll be hard for sure.”
For about the last 15 years or so, the group of hockey-loving students at the university has fielded a team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) and been allowed, on a contractual basis to wear BYU’s logo and represent the school in on the national club hockey circuit. However, concerned that the team isn’t in compliance with Title IX by not having a co-ed roster or a separate team for females, the university has determined it will no longer endorse the hockey team.
In response to an inquiry, the university gave the following statement regarding the status of the hockey team.
“In May of 2021, BYU agreed to allow the Provo IceCats hockey program to use the name and mark of the university for one final year, ending in May 2022. The program has never been sponsored by the university, nor has it been a part of BYU Athletics or the Student Life extramural program. BYU appreciates the understanding that has been shown by the IceCats organization of this decision, which was based upon several concerns, including Title IX constraints and organizational matters.”
Pitcher and his staff have been working with the school to find a solution, whether it be making a bigger outreach to have female students try out for the team, or by supporting an additional female-only team, but the problem is, there doesn’t seem underwhelming demand by females students to commit to playing on the team. The Cougars haven’t had a female player go out for the team in 10 years, Pitcher says.
Unless something changes that can persuade the administration at BYU that the hockey team is compliant with Title IX, the affiliation with the school will be cut off, he laments.
Pitcher is hopeful that the ACHA will allow the team to play without a school affiliation and with the generic IceCats moniker but says the sense of pride the players feel as being members of the hockey team at BYU will be noticeably absent. They’ve had to be referred to as the IceCats before and it just wasn’t the same.
“It was tough not wearing your school’s logo and not being able to call yourselves the Brigham Young University Cougars,” Pitcher, who has been a coach for the team since 2014, says. “And I think that since BYU has allowed us to represent the school in that way, we’ve done our best to try to uphold the standards of the university and conduct ourselves in a way that the university and the students can be proud of.”
For example, like the student-athletes who are on scholarship for BYU’s varsity programs, the staff for the hockey team holds the players to keep the Honor Code and also asks them to sign an additional code of conduct agreement each year. Pitcher notes that the locker room environment for the Cougars is remarkably different than most hockey locker rooms.
“Our focus is on developing a Christ-like atmosphere,” he says, alluding to the school’s connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We try to develop that on our team and I think we do a pretty good job of it. That’s important to us because we all share those values.”
The fans respond to that as well, coming out in droves to see their friends play at the local rink. Stating the Peaks’ main rink has a maximum capacity of 2,300, Pitcher thinks seeing the stands nearly full is a common sight for Cougars games. The team has also posted a petition to show to the university in last-ditch attempt to keep the affiliation alive that already has more than 5,000 signatures.
A former student at BYU himself, and Canadian-born (quite a surprise for a hockey coach, eh?) Pitcher is saddened that hockey players at BYU won’t be able to wear the school’s colors moving forward. With a diverse international student body, including many from hockey-loving locations, dropping the puck and hitting the ice has been a thing for BYU students to enjoy for a long, long time.
“There are a lot of Canadian students at BYU, and I’ve got a photo that I think is from like, 1912, or something like that, of BYU students playing hockey on the pond in a park in Provo Canyon,” Pitcher explains. “And then I’ve got other photos of club team of BYU students playing hockey, I think in the 1960s out on Utah Lake. So, hockey has been around, whether officially recognized or not, BYU culture for decades.”