Courtesy: University of Providence Athletics
When Dave Gantt was hired as the Vice President for Athletics at the University of Providence in the summer of 2016, he and school president Dr. Anthony Aretz promised a paradigm of growth for the school and for Argo Athletics. The school announced on October 10, 2017, that the next step in that growth for the UP athletic department will be the addition of men's and women's ice hockey as varsity sports starting in the fall of 2018.
Men's and women's hockey will be the second and third varsity sports added to the department since Gantt and Dr. Aretz came to Great Falls, following the addition of women's wrestling in the fall of 2017. The hockey teams will play and practice in the Great Falls IcePlex.
"As we continue to evaluate how to grow and improve Argo athletics, hockey became a logical and exciting candidate. Great Falls has a strong hockey culture, both with the Americans and with men's & women's youth hockey," Gantt said. "There is plenty of talent to recruit both locally and regionally which will help us continue to grow the school's enrollment while getting the community more involved with our athletics."
A partnership with the Great Falls Community Ice Foundation, the owners of the Great Falls IcePlex, made the addition of hockey a financially viable move for Argo athletics. The facility will take some work to fully accommodate two collegiate hockey programs, but the department already has the capital reserved for those upgrades.
"While hockey has been on the table for awhile, the partnership with the Great Falls Community Ice Foundation pushed this over the top," Gantt said, "We will have a facility that we can step into and begin using right away, and a direct relationship with an organization that has already done so much to grow hockey in the area."
The partnership will also benefit the IcePlex, with the Argo hockey teams paying rental fees for ice time that currently goes unused, while also getting more people from the community to the facility.
"We are very excited to welcome University of Providence varsity hockey to the Great Falls IcePlex. Having men's and women's college hockey in Great Falls will increase interest in the sport, especially with young girls, and provide growth and development opportunities for the IcePlex and our community," said Teresa Gunn of the GFCIF. "We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial partnership with the University of Providence."
The men's hockey team will be a part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association but which division is still yet to be decided. Other collegiate hockey teams in the state, including Montana Tech and Montana State University, are ACHA Division II and play in the Mountain West College Hockey League. Much like the MCLA for lacrosse, the ACHA is comprised of a mix of varsity and club programs. UP will be the first varsity program in the state.
For the women's team, even the association is still up in the air. The ACHA includes two divisions of women's hockey but few of the teams at either level are in the Big Sky region.
In the next few weeks, the athletic department plans to hire a head coach for the men's team. The women's head coach will be hired by the end of the academic year. Both teams will begin competing for the 2018-19 season. Between the two programs, hockey should bring over 40 new student-athletes to the UP campus, with the hopes for each team to eventually reach a roster size of 30-40 student-athletes.
The addition of the two programs will give the University of Providence 20 varsity teams, by far the most of any school in Montana.