By Erin Valois
If the Ryerson men’s hockey players have one advantage over their opponents, it’s that they aren’t afraid to lose.
The worst team in Canada last year is now on the hunt for a playoff spot and the players are ready to fight. The team’s turnaround was sparked by coach Graham Wise as he began to rebuild the hockey program.
After being hired in September 2006, Wise said the main problem the team faced last season was the coaching switchover, which left little time for recruiting.
“You need consistency when you are running a sports program,” he said. “When you change from one coach to another there will always be a gap in recruiting. We were often going into games with 13 skaters, which can be a little tough.”
Two unsuccessful seasons under former coach Mick Mitrovic left the team in shambles. The team was divided after Mitrovic’s coaching performance was called into question by his colleagues.
Current captain Kevin Krasnowski spent his first year on the team under Mitrovic and thinks the team’s downfall was because of the coach’s inability to enforce discipline.
“Guys were not showing up to practice and they were getting into trouble off the ice,” he said. “They were just doing whatever they wanted and their mind was not in the game.”
With the arrival of a new coach, practices were changed from mornings to afternoons so more players were able to attend practice.
Krasnowski said there is now more discipline and this transformed team dynamic, forcing the players to get serious.
“If they don’t come to practice, they will be benched,” he said. “[Wise has] sat out key players before. He enforces the rules and it’s great for team morale.”
This season, Wise thinks the team’s biggest achievement is having enough players to produce a solid lineup every game.
Even with last year’s horrible record, the coaching staff was still able to bring in quality players through Ryerson’s academic reputation.
“Ryerson has excellent programs and unique degrees, which is always a selling point,” Wise said. “It’s a great place to go to school and that’s important to any recruit.”
The Rams are a young team — the current roster consists of 10 first-year players including Paul Gibson, the starting goaltender for the Rams and a former junior hockey standout.
After inconsistent performances from three different goaltenders, Gibson has brought stability to the squad that saw 170 goals against last season.
“I knew coming in that the team wasn’t the best, but now we’re in the process of rebuilding,” Gibson said. “I’m just trying to work hard and give them a chance to win every night.”
As much as Gibson is responsible for the team’s recent success, he is only half the equation of the Rams comeback. Rookies like forward Brent Small and centre Daniel Borges have provided the scoring power to an offensive lineup that has already surpassed total goals scored last year.
The team hosted a doubleheader against the University of Windsor this weekend to kick off the second half of the season. Ryerson was physical with their opponents, pounding them into the boards and beating them in the corners. Although guilty of a few sloppy penalties and missed opportunities on the power play, Ryerson easily won both games.
At this point in the season, the team is in a must-win situation if they want to make the playoffs.
“We’ll have to come up with some great performances in the second half of the seasons,” Wise said. “If we can play competitively and if we can put some points up, we’ll challenge for a playoff spot in the East. We have to put our best foot forward.”
However, don’t completely count out the Rams from sneaking into post-season play. Spurred on by the momentum of previous wins, Krasnowski is positive that Ryerson has a fighting chance to challenge for a playoff spot.
“I think the guys are really pumped up and motivated,” Krasnowski said. “I can’t remember the last time we’ve won two games in a row.”
As for the future of the team after this season, Wise plans to continue his recruiting efforts and create a winning program that produces motivated student-athletes.
“Year after year, I think we will become more competitive. We want to win our division,” he said. “We would obviously like to be better than we are now, but it’s baby steps — not giant steps.”