Pep talk puts hockey squad back on track

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By George Nassios

While it may have seemed like only a miracle could turn Ryerson’s hockey season around, all it took was one team meeting.

With players frustrated by the team’s 2-12-0 record and the loss of their captain, Kirby Tokarski, head coach Ed Kirsten decided to organize a get-together before last weekend’s games against the Queen’s Golden Gaels and Royal Military College Paladins.

“I think it helped the players understand what the problems were and the guys made a commitment to work harder,” Kirsten said.

The team then proved that new commitment to their coach, defeating the Gaels 6-3 on Friday night and beating the Paladins 6-4 Saturday night at St. Michael’s Arena.

The wins snapped a four-game regular-season losing streak that started after a Nov. 24 win over McGill.

Although the team improved to 4-12-0, they are still last in the four-team OUA Midwest division, eight points behind Brock and Guelph, who hold the final playoff positions.

Friday’s win was easy for the Rams after they jumped to a 5-1 first-period lead. But Saturday it looked as though Ryerson would have some problems, as the Paladins scored twice in the opening 10 minutes. The Rams cut the lead in half in the last minute of the period when newcomer Nick Findley scored.

“They caught us off-guard in the first,” said Kirsten, referring to the slow start. “During the intermission we promised ourselves to get the puck in deep and get back to the game plan.”

The Rams came out firing in the second period. The two teams exchanged goals early in the frame, before the Rams took over with three goals in less than three minutes late in the period.

Two were scored by Mark McMillan, who replaced Tokarski on the top line with veterans Ryan Love and Jason Kotack. Centre Gille Boudreau had the other girl.

The Paladins pulled within one goal early in the third, but that was as close as they would get. An empty-net goal in the final minute by left-winger David Sa secured the Rams’ victory.

The wins were partly sparked by the return of defenceman Michael Haaksma, who missed three games while on suspension for fighting in a Nov. 25 game in Ottawa.

The aggressive blue-liner had a number of big bodychecks in Saturday’s match against RMC. One of Haaksma’s hits — on six-foot-four Paladin left winger John Verran — was so powerful the forward’s helmet flew off.

“I try to lead our team by example,” Haaksma said. “My game is to try and dominate the other team physically. We’ve got a ton of talent on this team and if we apply ourselves then the victories will keep coming.”

The Rams’ next chance at a win comes this Thursday when they head to Wilfrid Laurier to take on the 7-7-3 Golden Hawks. Sunday they return to the area to battle the 9-7-1 Waterloo Warriors. Their next home game is Thursday, Feb. 1 against the Western Mustangs at 7:45 p.m. at St. Michael’s Arena.

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