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Saint Mary's University has re-instated its women's hockey program after a barrage of public criticism and a pledge from Canadian Tire to provide corporate sponsorship for the team.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Colin Dodds, the president of the Halifax university, says the decision to cancel the program was a mistake and the university is sorry it took that step.

"The decision to cancel the women's varsity hockey program last week, in response to budget pressures, was wrong and we deeply regret it," said Dodds in the release.

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"We are taking several initiatives to earn back the respect lost so as to ensure that our students, alumni and friends continue to be enriched by the tradition and contributions of our female athletes."

An executive meeting of the university's board voted Tuesday morning to keep the team. The full board ratified the decision later in the day.

Dodds says he was "troubled" that last week's decision to cancel the program created the impression that Saint Mary's was backing away from its committment to support gender equality in sports and academics.

The news release also says Canadian Tire is taking the lead in organizing corporate donations for the team, and will be making a significant announcement Wednesday on the campus.

No figures on the amount of the corporate donation were given in the release.

The university recently announced it was ending the women's hockey program because of budget cuts, setting off protests by the team and its supporters.

The decision to cut women's hockey was put on hold last week after university officials received a large number of letters and emails expressing support for the program.

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Officials have said that the women's hockey program was the most expensive of all the women's varsity teams with an operational budget of $60,000.

Team coach Lisa Jordan described Tuesday's reversal as "a huge positive."

"Female hockey is growing so strongly in Canada and Saint Mary's is now able to make their contribution as well...So I'm very encouraged by the decision. There is only positive from this," she told the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

Jordan's program has been a success on the ice, winning four league championships. The Huskies went to the nationals last year, losing in the bronze-medal game.

Jordan said some of the 18 players eligible to return next season are reconsidering on grounds the university broke faith by targeting the program in the first place.

Some prospective recruits have changed their minds about joining the team.

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"There's still some fallout," she said. "It was a really difficult day last Friday. The players felt there was a commitment that they were making to the school and that it was reciprocal and certainly by announcing the program was cut demonstrated the exact opposite."

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