Almost no one has more experience as part of the Robert Morris men’s and women’s ice hockey teams that Logan Bittle.
After Wednesday’s announcement by RMU president Chris Howard that the school will be closing both programs, Bittle summed up the mood of those close to the Colonials hockey teams.
“I’m heartbroken,” Bittle said to Pittsburgh Hockey Digest just minutes after the announcement.
Bittle was one of the inaugural players of the first Robert Morris men’s hockey program back in 2004, when it was started under head coach Derek Schooley, who remained with the team through every season of its existence.
After a brief pro career, Bittle returned to the school as an assistant coach for the women’s hockey team, where he spent another 10 seasons before leaving earlier this spring for a position with Pittsburgh Penguins Elite.
“From the player’s side of things, from having started the men’s program, to everything and all the lives we’ve touched as a coach with the women’s program, I’m just heartbroken for everybody involved,” Bittle said.
“Starting from the ground up, we’ve done everything we could with what we had and it’s just shocking to me that all that hard work from all those people, right down the line from day one to the last day and is now gone. It’s devastating.”
One of the other RMU alumni with deep ties to both teams is Bittle’s wife, former Robert Morris goaltender and U.S. Olympian Brianne McLaughlin. After her playing career at RMU, with the U.S. Women’s National Team and in the NWHL, McLaughlin served as a volunteer assistant with the RMU men’s hockey team, while also running a goaltending academy out of RMU Island Sports Center.
“There’s obviously a financial call, I’m sure,” McLaughlin said. “It’s unfortunate that it had to be the hockeys that went. They’ve been some of the most successful teams at that school. And I know the big reason a lot of people know where Robert Morris is and who we are is because of the success of the men’s and women’s hockey teams.”
Through McLaughlin’s work in coaching, she’s seen not only the impact that the RMU teams have had on their players and the school, but those in the youth hockey community in the city.
“In anything, in any sport or whatever, it’s such a big deal for the kids to have people to look up to in the sport and for the girls especially,” McLaughlin said, and said the big sisters program from the RMU women’s team had a special impact.
“A lot of the little kids I coach and they just absolutely love having that big sister at Robert Morris and somebody to look up to and come to their games and teach. They all want to play Division I hockey and they’d have girls right there in such an easy access to, to show them that path. And now they don’t have that anymore. A lot of places don’t have that, so I guess we were lucky to have it for so long. I hope that we can find other ways.”
Former Robert Morris defender Kirsten Welsh, who is currently in training to become an NHL on-ice official, said it’s going to be hard for alumni to maintain pride in the university with the way the program was closed.
“It pains me to see the lack of communication to the alumni, sponsors and community around these two programs because there wasn’t even a chance to fundraise,” Welsh said. “55 players and seven staff members scrambling to now try and find an alternative this late in the season is just downright disrespectful. … Although I made lifelong memories and friendships within the RMUW hockey program, I can’t show continued support for the athletic department that gives such little thought to how a decision of this magnitude will effect the athletes from it’s most successful programs. All the players, staff and fans deserve so much better.”
Other alumni that Pittsburgh Hockey Digest reached shared similar thoughts.
“Very disappointed in the announcement today especially as it came without any heads up to anyone,” said Cody Wydo, a 2015 alum, the program’s second-leading scorer and a five-year veteran of professional hockey.
“Both hockey programs have consistently been at the top of their divisions as well as consistently being at the top in terms of average GPA as well. The program has consistently been making a national name for itself and just this year hosted the Frozen Four. I am in complete shock at this decision.”
Many more former players took to social media to express their frustration.
STOP DOING THIS, im speechless. 3 straight regular season championships, 5 straight appearances in the CHA championship, 2021 CHA championship+NCAA tournament appearance. My heart goes out to my former teammates and the athletes affected by this decision, your best is yet to come https://t.co/vYbiTlBCZ6
— Sarah Lecavalier (@lecavalier9) May 26, 2021
Very poor choice made by leadership here. The only programs that can compete consistently on the national level for Div 1. Often ranked in the top 20. Very disappointed. https://t.co/1HZmc4Wd1h
— Terry Shafer (@Shafdaddy01) May 26, 2021
To completely blindside the @RMUMHockey & @RMUWHockey programs without even giving them a chance to fundraise is disgusting…you will never see a penny from me! @DrChrisHoward #highestgpa #modelstudents #mydiplomaisalreadyinthetrash
— David Friedmann (@Friedsy) May 26, 2021
Unbelievable. And so incredibly disappointed by this athletic department and University as an alumni @StackCity22 @k_rich19 @BrianneMcL @elijahmprice @brithoward3 @JayceeGebhard https://t.co/XnTbr9eNTE
— Jen Kindret (@j_kindret) May 26, 2021
Something must be done to fix this, feel sad as an alumni, feel terrible for the amazing staff and players that are currently with the program. This can’t stand. https://t.co/dxSLimgKJp
— justin kapelmaster (@jpkappy) May 26, 2021
Heartbroken ? We worked extremely hard everyday to be a part of this program and wear the RMU logo proudly on our chest. At a loss of words and extremely disappointed in a place I called home. Love these girls and this team more than anything ❤️
— Leah Marino (@LeahMarino15) May 26, 2021
Emotional day for all of the alumni here. Hard to comprehend how the two highest ranked programs that the university offers are the ones that fall. Thankful I had the opportunity to create lifelong friendships and memories. @RMUWHockey https://t.co/zdpAnZdpWa
— EJ (@elijahmprice) May 26, 2021
Biggest mistake you guys could make. We are one of the flagship teams at RMU. Good luck getting people to attend the school. https://t.co/CbuspGNqaw
— Anjelica Diffendal (@jelldiff24) May 26, 2021
Heartbreaking ?. Two of the best teams on campus. Consistent success on and off the ice. CHA Champions. There are no words. https://t.co/sI3cSVcOAG
— Jaycee Gebhard (@JayceeGebhard) May 26, 2021
I am beyond shocked right now… https://t.co/D9t5p0U5ss
— Mikaela Lowater (@mik_lowater) May 26, 2021
What's even more appalling by @DrChrisHoward 's decision is it gives players little to no time to transfer…how can you make a decision to this magnitude with very little lead time…The decision and decision making process involved needs to be INVESTIGATED
— David Friedmann (@Friedsy) May 26, 2021
I’m in complete shock, Horrible news for all the players coaches and staff members. What both @RMUMHockey and @RMUWHockey have built in such a short time. Tournament appearances and league titles. What just happened??? https://t.co/fZ0o2cuMmy
— Scott Jacklin (@skiptesh19) May 26, 2021
This is MIND BLOWING to me. These programs have brought so much to the university and youth programs around the area. Absolutely heartbroken for the current athletes and staff along with alumni. https://t.co/D71XOy5uxE
— Maggie LaGue (@MaggieLaGue) May 26, 2021
Shocking and devastating. To cut two of the most successful programs makes no sense. @RMUWHockey with 3 straight regular season championships, 2021 and 2017 CHA Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Heart goes out to all the athletes affected ❤️ https://t.co/BPqJQmdSAO
— Katherine Murphy (@k_murph8) May 26, 2021
— Kristen Richards (@k_rich19) May 26, 2021
At a loss for words. Two of the most consistent top teams on campus. Emotional for all alumni and especially current players. https://t.co/wRkpCIJnpe
— Amber Rennie (@AmberRennie10) May 26, 2021
(1/2) Very disappointed in the leadership and communication from @rmu / @RMUAthletics for cutting both @RMUWHockey and @RMUMHockey programs. The swift decision impacts more than 55 student-athletes and seven staff positions, yet thousands of alumni and community members. https://t.co/Fr9VnHuClb
— Anissa Gamble (@anissa_gamble) May 26, 2021
Lol You had a great women’s hockey team now you just have a joke of a school with a bunch of pissed off alumni and kids who worked their butts off their whole life to play a NCAA sport looking for a new home https://t.co/3pLMQ8IrLP
— Nathan Mortland (@thebestmorty) May 26, 2021
An update? Or a kiss of death? Completely sickened with the lack of support or communication to alumni. Two programs that were the strong suit of the university with continued lack of support. While the entire university’s identity stands on a 1st round NIT win https://t.co/tw1SentFOR
— Matt Cope (@Cope_WithIt22) May 26, 2021