Little man, big heart

In Sports /

By Evan Boudreau

It’s halfway through the second period and Greg Riggs picks off a pass in his own zone. He looks up and sees a wide-open neutral zone — the perfect gift for the shifty 5’7″ centreman.

In just a few strides he reaches max speed and blazes into the offensive zone. The opposing defensemen move into position and force Riggs to weave through dropped shoulders and extended sticks as he makes his way to the net. It’s a situation he deftly dealt with in his junior hockey days, but can he do it again at a higher level of competition?

Before the 165-pound rookie can get a hard shot on goal, he’s knocked to the ice, causing the puck to trickle harmlessly towards the goaltender. Not this time, it seems, but he didn’t get this far by giving up.

Although Riggs is a proven star in his junior hockey league, he’s an unknown quantity at Ryerson. If he has any chance of getting all-star consideration here in the OUA, he’ll have to overcome many obstacles along the way. Aside from his diminutive size (he’s the smallest on the team by far) he’s also one of the youngest players and has no professional hockey experience.

The first-year business student also spends 40 minutes commuting each day to class, two hours practicing and then another hour-and-a-half heading home to Pickering from the rink.

“It’s a little tough, I’m really busy, and it was an early morning,” said Riggs after the early Sunday game. He’s visibly exhausted but sublimely confident in his abilities. He mastered the delicate balance between school and hockey once before; now he must do it again.

While his grades have yet to be tarnished, the same can’t be said about his game. He has yet to record a goal during the team’s four pre-season contests.

“It’s a lot faster of a game, a little bit rougher, but I’m enjoying it,” he said.

Naturally, the smallish centre doesn’t see his size as a disadvantage. His philosophy growing up has always been that size doesn’t matter on the ice. Don Cherry diehards may disagree, but coach Graham Wise sure doesn’t. When asked if Riggs’ size might hold him back, Wise emphatically shouted “No!”

Wise feels Riggs just needs to settle into his coaching system, build chemistry with his linemates, and adjust his game to George Bell Arena’s small ice surface. “He’s a pretty gritty kid, an offensive guy, quick and good on the penalty kill,” said Wise.

Riggs comes to the Ryerson Rams after spending five years playing for his hometown Pickering Panthers in the Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League. Last season, Riggs recorded a team-leading 53 points in 49 regular season games en route to his MVP nomination.

It was former Rams captain Kevin Krasnowski who introduced the coaching staff to Riggs. Having played against him in junior hockey, Krasnowski knew Riggs would be a good fit for the Rams.

It looks to be a match made in heaven, as Riggs also has a deep connection to Maple Leaf Gardens. He once scored a game-winning goal during a tournament there, and his face lights up like a red goal-lamp at the thought of doing it on a regular basis.

“What kid doesn’t want to play in Maple Leaf Gardens?” said Riggs.

For now the young centre is focused on impressing the coaches before the final roster cuts are made. With the Rams season opener on October 1, that time is running out.

His position on the team is anything but secured, as he is battling four other rookie centres for a roster spot. But regardless of what happens, he’s already made friendships that are bound in hockey tape.

“So far it’s been going out with the boys, meeting a bunch of people, it’s been fun,” said Riggs.

Photo: Evan Boudreau

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