By Adam Button
As players on Ryerson’s hockey team left the ice on their first day of practice Monday they were tired, exhausted and blue in the face.
New head coach Ed Kirsten, however, wore a huge grin.
He seemed to enjoy whipping his team into shape at Moss Park Arena by making players skate countless laps in between intense scrimmages.
But although the coach, who has worked as an assistant with the team for the past two years, had a happy expression on his face, he explained he has an ambitious goal for this year.
“Making the playoffs,” he said, right after he stepped off the ice. “That’s my goal.”
Midway through last season, the Rams appeared poised to make the post season for the first time in Louie Carnevale’s six-year tenure as head coach, when division-rival York University had to forfeit six wins for using an ineligible player. The ruling shook up the four-team OUA Mid West Division standings, bumping Ryerson into second and York into last place.
But the Rams struggled in the second half of the year and York made up lost ground quickly. Heading into their final game against the Laurentian Voyageurs, however, ensured they’d miss the playoffs again.
But the Rams took consolation from their 9-16-1 record, an improvement from 1998, when they went 6-19.
With nearly the exact same group of players as last year, which includes co-captain and team leader Kirby Tokarski, the Rams’ chances of making the post season are as good as ever.
Carnevale, however, said he doesn’t regret his decision to leave.
“There doesn’t seem to be the time [for me] any more,” he said. “My [insurance and financial service] business is growing, my three kids are getting older. The timing for me was right to get out.”
Although he’s no longer associated with the team, Carnevale said he hopes to see the Rams do well this season. He believes Kirsten is a fine replacement for him.
“Ed’s a good guy,” Carnevale said. “He’s going to do very well.”
Since being named the new head coach at the end of last season, Kirsten has been busy preparing and recruiting new players.
One of the new recruits, Dustin Dagenais, just finished a two-year Canadian Hockey League career, in which he split his time with the Belleville Bulls and Halifax Mooseheads.
Kirsten is thrilled that he landed the top-notch prospect, a tall defenceman who should be able to throw his weight around.
“He’s very experienced,” Kirsten said. “We needed help on defence and he’s definitely going to make an impact.”
Although Dagenis has played on teams that are much better than Ryerson, he said he’s impressed with what he’s seen from his new squad so far.
“I think we’ll have a good team,” the 21-year-old arts student said. “We’ve got a lot of depth.”
The Rams will begin play this year with a pair of tournaments, starting next weekend. Their first OUA league game is Friday, Oct. 20 against Wilfrid Laurier at St. Michael’s Arena.