By Hilary Hagerman
Last year, the Ryerson Stingers were the only team at the university to win a championship.
They were undefeated, hired world-renowned Stephanie White as their new head coach and moved up two tiers in the Golden Blades Women’s Hockey League because of their success.
The probationary team is finishing their last year as a probationary squad and could achieve varsity status in 2010, when they will be eligible to play in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) league.
And while it seems the Stingers have finally reached the top, their move from Tier 4, the lowest level, to Tier 2 this season has caused the team to struggle.
“The tier they played in last year was a bit more of a beginner level,” said White.
“This year, they’re playing against some pretty experienced players.”
On March 1, they suffered their 12th loss of the season – losing 3-1 to the Mississauga Wolves and moving them into a tie for 11th place in the 13 team league.
Ivan Joseph, Ryerson’s director of athletics, is not disappointed by the team’s poor showing this year.
He said the losses are not because of problems within the team’s structure and is confident they have the resources to succeed in 2010 when they plan to achieve varsity status.
“The women’s team played in a different league last year, so that has a lot to do with their play this season,” he said.
“When I was coaching soccer, I wanted at least one loss for every three wins. You learn far more when you lose so I think it’s really good for the team right now.”
The Stingers started off in Tier 4 because the team’s management decided this was the best way to introduce the squad to competitive play.
But White said the team decided to move up two tiers this season because it was a challenge, helping the Stingers prepare for the future.
And White knows all about building a championship team.
With an impressive resume spanning almost 20 years, she has coached Canada’s Under 18 and Under 22 teams. She was also the assistant coach for the national women’s team, which won gold at the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship.
But she wanted to try her hand at coaching a university team.
“For me, it was definitely a change at the beginning of the year from the athletes that I coached last year, but at this point in my career, it was a change that I needed,” White said.
“Their level of knowledge of the game is different from what I had been experiencing in the last few years but I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it’s been fantastic.”
Goaltender Casey Stafford is confident in White’s ability to lead the team to victory, but she says there are problems with scheduling that prevents the Stingers from practicing at their full potential.
“Steph has taught us many new plays and strategies, and also how to play better together,” Stafford said.
“However not everyone can attend every practice so we don’t always have the opportunity to practice together.”
White said without their own rink, it’s difficult for the team to work on their skills because they need to go off campus and there is limited ice time in Toronto.
Recruiting has also been a challenge because they don’t have varsity status, so there is little to offer new players.
“It’s always been a bit of a struggle because right now we’re a bit caught in the middle,” said White.
“Since we’re not an OUA (Ontario University Athletics) team right now, it makes it challenging for students to make the decision to come to Ryerson.”
But as for the future, White hopes the team will get more practice time where they can work on improving skills and working together.
And next year, she wants to move the Stingers up to Tier 1, where they will be pushed to play at their most competitive level.
“We are building a base for the future, and that’s what this year is a lot about,” said White.
“I’m pleased with where we’ve taken the team this year, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in the coming years to get to the OUA level.”