The men’s hockey team loves to play a rough-and-tumble game, but as Evan Boudreau finds out, they might be in for a world of hurt if they don’t tame their aggression soon
The men’s hockey team is off to a hot start this season and it looks as though the heat is getting to their heads.
The Rams are firing on all cylinders, piling up the wins en route to capturing fourth place in the OUA Eastern Conference with a record of 4-3-0. But W’s aren’t the only thing they’ve been racking up. They’re first place in the league in the most unflattering statistic of all: penalty minutes (PIM).
If this disturbing trend doesn’t change soon, the team is bound to suffer in the standings.
Look no further than their 5-3 season-opening win against Nipissing, where the Rams nearly sat in the sin bin as much as they played on the ice. The first period wasn’t even over before fourth-year defenceman Julian Zamparo took exception to a Nipissing player clipping one of his teammates and set off a penalty-laden scrum.
“I stepped in and sort of went after the guy who did it to say ‘Hey, you can’t do that’,” Zamparo said.
When former OHL enforcer Conor O’Donnell started throwing jabs at Zamparo, newly-minted captain Marcus Booth quickly stepped in and took a beating for his teammate.
In all, the damage was 29 PIMs. Zamparo was issued a five-minute major, 10-minute game misconduct and was ejected from the game for fighting, while Booth left with a misconduct of his own and a minor for roughing. Rookie centre David Harris also got a minor for slashing.
It’s no secret that head coach Graham Wise has been building a tougher, more aggressive team in his tenure at Ryerson. Each time the team hits the ice you can bank on a plethora of two-minute minors, five-minute majors, and ten-minute misconducts that come with playing a high-octane style.
Only seven games into the young season and the team has already been sent to the sin bin 50 times, accumulating 187 penalty minutes. That’s already more than a third of the 521 PIMs they had all last season.
Booth embodies the team’s troubles. He tops the OUA in penalty minutes with 44 in only five games. He’s hardly the only culprit though. Three other Rams — fifth-year winger Cory Konecny, rookie centre Travis Dunstall, and Zamparo — join him among the top 20 most penalized players.
“The aggression has to be there and the intensity has to be there to win games, but we need to reduce the two minute penalties,” Booth said. “The way I play I’m a little more prone to these 10-and-two head checking penalties. There have been calls people will argue, but that will happen all season.”
Much of the problem stems from retaliation penalties like the ones against Nipissing. While it’s admirable the team is looking to stick up for one another, those shorthanded opportunities will ultimately catch up to them — and the players know it.
“As a team we all know we’ve got to reduce the penalty minutes.” Zamparo said. “We’ve had some good luck. Even with the penalty minutes we’ve been getting wins, but you can’t keep doing that.”
The undersized rink at George Bell Arena the team calls home may also contribute to the high instance of penalties: with precious little space to manoeuvre, players are bound to get caught for hooking, slashing, and boarding penalties.
But more than anything, it is the attitude of retribution that permeates the locker room.
Wise defended his team’s penchant for penalties, especially the ones for head checking. In the OUA, any contact with another players head —be it from a shoulder, an elbow or a fist — will score a player two minutes in the box, along with a 10-minute game misconduct.
Despite his players’ concerns, Wise isn’t bothered by the penalties.
“I don’t look at it as a concern,” he said. “If we find it becomes an issue we’ll address it.”
Photo: Evan Boudreau