By Jeff Jurmain
Imagine you’re a hockey player straight out of high school. Maybe you’ve played a little city rep or maybe even given the Ontario Hockey League a go, but now you want to go and study at an Ontario university.
You’ve decided that playing hockey will still be a priority when you go to school, so you keep that in mind while you’re post secondary shopping.
After looking at all the big hockey schools like Guelph and Western, you decide you want to stay in Toronto. You think about U of T. They have cool programs, they missed the playoffs this year, but still have a good hockey tradition. U of T gets a check mark on your list.
Then you examine York. It has a big campus and a hockey team that was ranked in the top 10 nationally this year. York gets thrown into your shopping cart.
Then you look at Ryerson. Very good programs, but they’ve missed the playoffs the last six years. No big name players. Hmmm…
It’s difficult to attract players to Ryerson with a team that is sometimes able to compete with the best but can never seem to shake that losing disease. The Rams also play miles from campus in St. Michael’s Arena, located just north of Bathurst and St. Clair streets.
The consistent losing season stem from recruiting difficulties, lack of fans and uncommitted players.
This year’s centre and co-captain, Kirby Tokarski, said the team has had problems with players falling out.
“Lots of kids who come here aren’t school people,” Tokarski said. “So it’s tough to build a foundation when new players are always coming in and some are leaving.”
Out of its 25 player roster this season, the Rams had five players in the diploma in arts program (DIA). The DIA is typically used by students who couldn’t get into their program of choice to better their academic record and try to get in again.
“We have to keep kids in school year by year, and recruit special people,” the second-year hospitality and tourism management student said. Tokarski also spent a year as a DIA student.
Ryerson has missed the playoffs every year since becoming a university in 1993. The last time they posed a serious threat was more than a decade ago as a college when it was one win away from the final four in Canada.
After the years of non-contending teams, Rams head coach Louie Carnevale has recently become an active recruiter.
Ryerson finished dead last in the Mid-West division this year with a 6-19 record. The team scored the fewest goals (74) in their division, and also allowed the most goals against (133).
Tokarski was recruited by Carnevale three years ago. He said the coach watches many Tier II and Junior B hockey games, always looking for those players who would strengthen the Ryerson team.
“Rye is hardly known for its athletics,” Tokarski said. “Most of the talented players who have good marks get into Guelph or Western.”
Former Rams captain Anthony Miele, who graduated last year, said Ryerson needs players who will be able to stay on the team and build a solid foundation. “We have to get players who are good, hard workers who’ll stay for four years and build the nucleus,” Miele said. “Bring some high-calibre students to feed into Louie’s system.”
Miele said Ryerson may be able to lure some of the better players if there as a venue available near campus.
He said a hockey player leaving home will want to play close to the university and will undoubtedly want a team that has a winning history.
“It’ll take some time to build up a name like Guelph or Western,” Miele said. “Ryerson will need big-name players who are committed. We have a good core right now — this is the year; a good starting point because no one’s graduating.”
Carnevale’s system, in place for the past five years, relies on hard work and commitment from the players.
“Louie is really intense — it’s his way or the highway,” Tokarski said. “He’s got his views and only his views. Sometimes he’s a little too strict, but he’s a good coach who wants dedication.”
Miele said that before Carnevale, the program had en even worse record than it does now. He said Canevale was demanding, fair and straightforward to all the players.
Paul Noonan, a former defenceman with the team, said Canevale could only work with the players he had — while many real young stars went to other schools.
“Louie doesn’t promise things you won’t get,” Noonan said. “He only promises that you’ll get out of the team what you put in.”
Noonan played for Concordia for two seasons before coming to Ryerson, and even then, for academic reasons.
“Ryerson doesn’t exclude athletic dominance, but it never got a fair shot,” said Noonan, who spent the early part of last fall in Kansas playing for the Topeka ScareCrows of the Central Hockey League.
“I went to a prospect school because it was attractive. I was still following a dream.”
Tokarski said next year’s team will be stronger, as the whole team is returning, and if a few more quality players were added, especially on defines, they would help lift Ryerson closer to that winning record it hasn’t had since the ’80s.