By Dennis Leary
In Kirby Tokarski’s four years with Ryerson’s hockey team, he’s earned respect from coaches and teammates. Now there’s only one thing he has left to gain — a successful season.
“It’s my fifth year here,” Tokarski, a hospitality and tourism management student, said after practice last week. “It would pretty much be a waste of time if we don’t at least make the playoffs.”
Sitting on the bench of Moss Park Arena, the six-foot-one-centre gazed at the Zamboni cleaning the ice.
“My first couple years we didn’t win too many games,” he said. “It’s been tough but that’s why I’m excited about what we have this year.”
“We’ve got five or six guys graduating at the end of this year who are in the same position I am. I want something to show for it.”
When Tokarski first laced his skates for the Rams in the 1996-1997 season, his team was an easy win for opponents in Ontario University Athletics.
Tokarski’s scoring ability and leadership helped the team improve each year.
Last season, the Rams went 9-16-1. Although they missed the playoffs after losing the final game of the season, they were competitive in almost all their games.
Tokarski’s desire to make the playoffs was never more evident than in that last game. Against the Laurentian Voyageurs, the Rams were forced to pull their goalie, trailing 2-1 in the final minute. When a Laurentian player got a breakaway with an empty net, Tokarski frantically back-checked and threw his stick to stop the shot. He did stop the puck, but the penalty for throwing a stick with an empty net is to award a goal. The ruling ensured another disappointing end to a Ryerson season.
If the Rams make it one step further this year, Tokarski will likely be a big reason why.
“Kirby has a major leadership role on the team,” new head coach Ed Kirsten said. “He’s going to be one of the go-to guys on the power play and penalty kill. When it comes down to the wire we’re going to look to him.”
Tokarski has been among his team’s top-three score in all four of his years. The feat has caught the admiration of one of his linemates, who has been in on several of those goals.
“He’s definitely a leader,” said Ryan Love, a right-winger. “I’ve played with Kirby for three years now and we’ve gotten comfortable with each other and work well together. I want to play well for myself but also to help him get to the next level.”
After graduating, Tokarski plans to pursue a professional career in either Spain or Scotland. He’s also interested in becoming an assistant coach for the Rams.
But this week Tokarski’s mind is focused solely on the team’s OUA season opener against Wilfrid Laurier University, Friday at 7:45 p.m. at St. Michael’s Arena. To do that he’ll have to forget about the team’s ugly 0-5 preseason record, which culminated with an embarrassing 16-2 loss to the University of Ottawa Gee Gees on Sunday.
“I’m still optimistic,” Tokarski said. “I believe in our team. I am still excited about the year.”