Raygan Kirk couldn't have prepared for this.
When the athletic department at Robert Morris University summoned Kirk and her teammates to a Wednesday afternoon Zoom call, they were unaware that both the women's and men's hockey programs were about to be axed in a major cost-cutting move by the Pittsburgh-based NCAA school.
All told, 55 players and seven staff members were affected by the move.
The women's team, for whom Kirk had served as the No. 1 goaltender during her freshman and sophomore seasons, was eliminated from the quarter-finals of the NCAA Tournament in a 5-1 loss to Northeastern on March 15.
"A little bit of a warning — maybe 15 minutes — but that was about it," said Kirk from her home in Ste. Anne Thursday morning. "This time yesterday I was talking to some of my teammates, we were excited to live together next year and trying to sort things out and then all of a sudden it's, 'I'm not gonna see you again' possibly."
Stunned by the announcement, the 20-year-old spent the rest of the day responding to supporters. One of the first to reach out was Kristen Campbell, the Brandon goaltender who started her college career at the University of North Dakota before school officials axed the women's hockey program after her redshirt freshman season in the spring of 2017.
Campbell transferred to the University of Wisconsin and led the Badgers to a national title in the spring of 2019. A year later, Wisconsin was on the brink of another championship only to be shutdown by the pandemic.
Campbell, recently added to Team Canada's centralization roster for the 2022 Olympics, and Kirk were off-season training partners in Winnipeg and have the same coach, Gord Woodhall.
"She just said I know exactly how you're feeling and it's overwhelming," said Kirk, who was the MVP of Canada's gold-medal winning squad at the 2019 U18 world championship. "They talk about you know having a five-year plan, a 10-year plan and I like to think I did have one. I was gonna finish out my school at Robert Morris and then they give you the opportunity of a fifth year (due to the pandemic).
"Then, all of a sudden, that goes out the window and now you're gonna have to try to find somewhere else to restart."
Kirk will immediately enter the NCAA's transfer portal but with most off-season recruiting already completed, the number of potential landing spots could be limited.
"If you look at (Campbell) now and the success she's had over the years, hopefully I can end up in a similar boat and find a new home," said Kirk.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.