by Anthony Lopololo
The American junior hockey team dealt Canada a huge blow when they won the world junior hockey championship earlier this month.
But Canadian hockey isn’t just losing its reputation. It is losing players too.
And Ryerson might have the cure to the nation’s dry spell.
Maple Leaf Gardens could be a saving grace for Ryerson — and even university hockey. It could serve as a third option closely behind the Ontario Hockey League and NCAA schools, with its prestige and historical allure.
University of Western Ontario athletics manager Chuck Mathies, who was manager of interuniversity sport at Ryerson eight years ago, believes the hockey program at the university needs more than the Gardens to survive. However, he is not disputing the team will get a major boost.
“In terms of reputation it would indicate the amount [of effort] put towards the hockey program,” he said.
Universities across Canada have increasingly struggled to entice young hockey players to stay home and play the national sport.
There are two typical roads Canadian players can take to the NHL — the major junior leagues and the U.S. The NCAA is loaded with full-ride scholarships which covers all expenses for athletes. It continues to be a hub for Canadian players who harbour hopes of playing professional hockey.
Canadian institutions, by way of Canadian Interuniversity Sport rules, can only offer scholarships that cover tuition and compulsory fees. In Ontario University Athletics (OUA), the cap is $3,500 and an 80 per cent average is required.
“The only way we’re going to rival the NCAA is if we start to offer full scholarships like the NCAA does,” said Ryerson men’s hockey coach Graham Wise.
“Kids leave because they want to get an education and they want to maximize their hockey playing ability. They’ve got four years to do that in the US. In order to compete against that, we’d have offer the same kind of package that’s being offered south of the border.”
Wise finds that Canadian universities are left with the crop of leftover players, most of whom failed to find a home in the U.S. or in major junior hockey by the time they are 20 years old.
“The reason we recruit older kids is because of the junior system in Canada, which allows them to play until they’re 20,” he said.
Ivan Joseph, Ryerson’s director of athletics, is confident the Gardens proximity to the university and its widespread reputation as a storied building are well-documented pluses for Ryerson’s hockey program.
“I see any Canadian university player wanting to play in Maple Leaf Gardens. I can see them loving to compete for a national championship under the same roof that all the famous Leafs and former greats skated in,” he said.
— With files from Carys Mills