By Kevin Gonsalves
The Rams think they have what they need to start winning.
Hockey coach Ed Kirsten has a problem most coaches only dream of: having too many talented goalies.
Kirsten says new goalie John Sikkema, who has two years of experience with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, “will definitely” challenge last year’s starter, Steve Bewley.
Kirsten also said Patrick Dovigi, a goalie who was drafted 41st by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1997 NHL entry draft, may suit up for the Rams in the winter semester if he becomes a full-time student.
Bewley isn’t worried about losing his starting spot.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me,” he said. “Sikkema’s a great guy in the dressing room and on the ice. I’m busting my butt because I want to start every game.”
Last year, the Rams went 4-20-0 in OUA play and failed to make the playoffs. They were the only team in the four-team OUA midwest division that did not make the playoffs.
They often allowed 50 shots on goal. Bewley made the Rams look better than the box scores showed.
“Teams like [the University of Western Ontario Mustangs] have more talent, so our work ethic has to be high,” Bewley said. “Mental lapses and a lack of physical strength meant teams would run over us late [in the game]. This year we have to be willing to pay the price.”
Ryerson had a tough time cutting down the shots against in a four-team weekend tournament hosted by the University of Brock Badgers. On Friday the Rams were outshot 48-26, but they surprised the OUA powerhouse University of Guelph Gryphons 5-3. They lost the tournament final to the Badgers 4-2, and were outshot 47-36. Guelph beat the Conestoga College Condors to capture third place.
Kirsten, now in his second year with the Rams was, nevertheless, pleased with the team’s second place finish.
“I’m happy with the team’s effort,” he said. “The goaltending was outstanding. Bewley played great against Guelph.”
This year, the Rams will focus more on scoring than playing the defensive trap.
“We’re going to be more offensive this year,” said Kirsten. “We’ll look to forecheck more.”
Like many Ryerson teams hoping to rebound from poor seasons, Kirsten prefers not to make predictions about the playoffs, and he’ll evaluate the team’s chances week to week.
Bewley, on the other hand, is making a confident prediction for this year’s squad. “We’ll make the playoffs, guaranteed,” he said.
Defenceman David Anthony, who is also guaranteeing a trip to the playoffs, thinks the team will play better defensively before the season starts.
“The whole team has to buy into the fact that defence wins games,” he said. He is also optimistic Ryerson’s two-tournament exhibition scheduled will allow the team’s new players to jell with veterans before the season starts.
In 24 games last season, the team scored 70 goals and allowed 140. Kirsten thinks some of the team’s 10 recruits will be keys to scoring success.
“Justin Norwood is a player with [Ontario Hockey League] experience, who’s big and strong, and should be a solid centre for us,” said Kirsten. Norwood played for the Peterborough Petes and the Mississauga Ice Dogs.
Kirsten said he will also rely on forwards Rick Pollard, who suffered a separate shoulder against Guelph on Friday, and Marco Sestico to help the team improve.
The reasons for last year’s poor results are numerous, but the team focussed on making the playoffs this year after losing only two players.
The team is also playing in the Lakeshore Lions Arena this year – where the Toronto Maple Leafs practice – after several years at St. Michael’s Arena.
The rink at Lakeshore is bigger which favours an offensive game plan, and is attracting players to practices. The full team is usually at the rink, and Bewley said this should help the Rams’ work ethic, which he says is the strength of the team.
The University of Toronto Blues could be the best team in the OUA midwest division this year, after finishing nationally eighth-ranked and winning the division last season.
Kirsten says Ryerson’s other two divisional opponent – traditionally weak Queen University Golden Gaels and the Royal Military College Paladins – will also be better. “I’ve heard through the grapevine RMC had a good recruiting year,” Kirsten said.
The Rams open the season at home against the York University Yeomen on Oct. 18.