In late July 2008, Augustana Vikings hockey coach Blaine Gusdal recruited his first player for the season: a young man from Saskatchewan named David Ritz. The very next year, Gusdal, with Ritz's help, landed Dean Prpick, another top recruit. These two went on to play Vikings hockey for several years, eventually settling into the Camrose community and demonstrating their affinity for their former team by becoming leaders of the Vikings hockey alumni association.
This story is similar to many other stories that Vikings hockey players and other former Viking student-athletes more generally like to tell. However, it was David and Dean, along with other alumni association members Verlyn Olson and LeRoy Johnson, who have worked tirelessly over the past few months to find ways to continue the hockey tradition at Augustana after deep budget cuts left the program with an unstable future.
On June 28, an agreement between Augustana and the Augustana Vikings Hockey Alumni Association was signed to ensure the continuation of the Augustana Vikings hockey program— and it's hard to say which party is more excited...or thankful.
"The longevity and success of the Vikings is entrusted in this agreement," said Augustana Dean Demetres Tryphonopoulos. "And I would like to offer our thanks to our Alumni Hockey Association for their imagination, spirit of generosity, passion for the program and hard work. Without this group's initiative and persistence, none of this would have been possible."
A round one playoff win
Although the agreement has been signed, the work is far from over.
"Finalizing that agreement was an exciting day for me," explained Ritz, president of the alumni association. "Seeing the signed copy sent back was kind of like a first-round playoff win...we celebrated, but also thought 'we'll get back to work tomorrow'."
Part of that "getting back to work" will be in determining, recording and agreeing on various important details. Dean Tryphonopoulos describes the agreement as a "living document," as a few elements remain to be worked out.
The other part—the Stanley Cup win—is in continuing to garner support and fundraise for the team. Although the alumni association has made great strides in this regard, "We still have a lot of hard work to do," says Prpick, vice-president of the association. "There has been a lot of support in the greater hockey community for the Augustana Vikings, but the job is really just getting started."
The association has the right players in the rink. "I'm truly so appreciative of what [David and Dean] have done," said Blaine Gusdal, who will be continuing his position as head coach of the Vikings hockey team. "The impact that these two, and the association, have had on this campus and this program are immeasurable."
Long, indeed. The Augustana Vikings were one of the first members of the ACAC and have been operating for some 52 years. Over a 25 year period, they hosted an international and internationally recognized hockey tournament, the Vikings Cup. Significantly, the Vikings Hockey Alumni Association is the only alumni group on campus that is incorporated as a non-profit and has already been providing substantial financial support to its team.
Verlyn Olson, a long-time member of the Vikings Cup steering committee, former Vikings player, and a former MLA for the Camrose-Wetaskiwin area and Provincial Government Minister, also stressed the importance of not only the hockey program and its long tradition but also of the value of Augustana as a campus.
"While hockey has been an important part of life at Augustana for decades, so have many other sports and cultural programs," Olson explained. "To me, the value of Augustana from a teaching and academic perspective are beyond question. What makes it a center of excellence are those qualities combined with the sport, cultural and community engagement of its students."
Olson, along with other former MLA and longtime Vikings supporter LeRoy Johnson, brought to the group's deliberations and emerging work on the agreement a wealth of invaluable and requisite knowledge of the history of the hockey program, of Augustana and of rural Alberta in general.
"Both Veryln and LeRoy's leadership and knowledge of the program was a blessing," Ritz explained. "We also would like to thank Demetres and Ian [Reade, director of athletics, University of Alberta] for their support and guidance throughout our negotiations."
A break before the breakaway
In mid-June, Augustana also made the decision to withdraw participation from the 20/21 ACAC or Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association (CCAA) season, for all of the Vikings teams, including hockey, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dean Tryphonopoulos and Reade both expressed uncertainty that the leagues would go ahead in January, citing direction from the Alberta's Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the University of Alberta's Public Health Response Team to plan the Winter (January to April) Term with an emphasis on online/remote wherever possible. Their priorities lie in keeping Augustana's student-athletes and coaches safe, which, they say, would become immensely more difficult if they were on the road and competing against other institutions.
"We need to be very serious about the protection of our students and the protection of our athletes," said Reade. "And at the same time, we can all be very excited that the association has stepped up to protect a program with such a long history at Augustana."
To the (Vikings) hockey hall of fame
The alumni association expressed an understanding of the circumstances and are eager to continue their fundraising efforts in the meantime. Although Ritz's appreciation and excitement regarding the agreement are palpable, he also reinforced that there is much more to be done. And that work extends far beyond Augustana administration or the alumni association.
"To the Augustana Campus and City of Camrose," Ritz proclaimed, "let's prepare to build even more history for this great program."
Whether you wish to learn more about this agreement and what it means for Augustana and its Athletics programming or would like to provide much-needed assistance to the Augustana Vikings Hockey Alumni Association, you are encouraged to get in touch with David Ritz at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Dean Prpick at email@example.com.