By Kevin Gonsalves
After the hockey team’s first game of the season, fans could be excused for wondering if a team that promised to be competitive had been joking. But a win three nights later made the team look good on its promise to improve.On Thursday, the Rams lost to the York University Yeomen 7-3.
But on Sunday the Rams recovered to defeat the Brock University Badgers – though just barely.
With close to 30 seconds left in overtime, forward Ryan Love found David Anthony in the slot for an open shot. Ram’s rookie centre Justin Norwood jammed home the rebound and Ryerson won the game 5-4.
Anthony credits the win to an outstanding performance from new goalie John Sikkema.
“Our goaltending was impressive [against York], as it was all of last season,” said Anthony, following the game against Brock. “The difference today was we were better at clearing the puck.”
Coach Ed Kirsten agreed. “We had better discipline in our zone,” he said. “There weren’t as many rebounds lying around the front of our net.”
The Rams also had a more aggressive offense against the Badgers.
“Everyone was much more determined,” said Love. “We created more chances and then we buried our opportunities.”
Kirsten thought the Rams were in good shape, even before the overtime session. “We had momentum, and Sikkema was playing very well.”
Last year, Ryerson lost 10-3 to the Badgers in a game that ONtv televised. Love said it helped to get the team’s first win out of the way.
“It was a relief,” he said. “We have some new guys in here with fresh attitudes who are used to winning, and that helps.”
The Rams’ commitment to defence was questionable during the preseason. On Sunday, the team worked hard to knock rebounds away from Sikkema.
“The team was much better at moving the puck out of our end,” said Kirsten. “We had a game plan for our defence to pass the puck out and when they did it we were successful.”
The Rams also played a disciplined game, staying out of the penalty box. They scored twice on seven powerplay chances and killed off their two penalties.
“There was this one clown on Brock who kept on trying to get under the skin of our players,” said Kirsten. “Our guys stayed disciplined and didn’t retaliate.”
The Rams think there is room for improvement. Kirsten says the Badgers scored after “very bad mistakes” by the Ryerson defence. But instead of letting the mistakes lead to another loss, the Rams regained momentum in the third period and won.
The game against York was a different story. The 7-3 score and 46 shots against didn’t reflect a solid second period, when the Rams narrowed the score to 4-3 before the Yeomen put the game away in the third.
“It was such an effort to close the gap after the first, we just weren’t able to come back the whole distance,” said Anthony.
A good sign for the Rams is that goalie Steve Bewley played well. With Sikkema joining Bewley in net this year, the Rams have one of the better goaltending tandems in the league.
The Yeomen scored most of their goals off rebounds. After the game, Kirsten said the team would work on puck movement.
“We panicked too much against York and their size,” he said. “We had too many bad giveaways in our zone and they cost us.”
The game against York was a disappointment for the Rams, especially because the team had approximately 80 fans show up.
The team heavily promoted the game in Jorgensen Hall and throughout the residences. They also had a free bus to the Lakeshore Lion arena.
“It was really nice to see all the fans who came out to the game,” said Anthony. “It gave the team a real lift when the buses pulled up near the end of the first period.”
Love agreed that seeing a huge group of fans at the game helped the team.
“We’d love to see them come out all the time,” he said.
Ryerson is 1-1-0 in the OUA mideast division which also features the Queens University Golden Gaels, the Royal Military College Paladins, and the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, who won the OUA championship last season.
The top three teams in the division make the playoffs. Last year, the Rams went 4-20-0 and were the last place team.
The Blues are favoured to win the division. Queen’s and RMC are perennially weak teams.
The Rams’ next game is at the University of Guelph, Thursday. After that they have a break until Nov. 3, when they will play the University of Concordia Stingers at home.