Rookie goaltender Emma Crawley. Photo: Lindsay Boeckl

A whole new game

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After spending three years dominating the Golden Blades Women’s Hockey League, Ryerson’s women’s hockey team is getting ready to compete in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports for the first time in school history. Matt Kennedy reports

Many of Ryerson’s athletic programs have undergone a competitive renaissance as of late, but none more so than the woman’s hockey team.

Armed with a new head coach, a new home arena and a lot of new faces, the Rams are looking to take the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) by storm in their inaugural season in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS).

The new-look Rams bolstered their women’s hockey program with a bunch of fresh faces, none of whom are more important to building and sustaining success than their new head coach, Lisa Jordan.

Not only has Jordan, 38, won a gold medal as an assistant coach for Team Canada’s under-18 women’s hockey team in 2010, but the Nova Scotia native is no rookie when it comes to building a university program.

After founding Saint Mary’s women’s hockey program in 1996, a then 24-year-old Jordan went on to lead the Huskies to four championships, before the team was initially axed due to budget constraints last March. Saint Mary’s hockey program was later saved due to a $60,000 from Canadian Tire, Jordan had already signed on.

“Fifteen years ago, I was an unseasoned coach with a new team, so this feels a lot easier,” said Jordan. “I know what growing pains to expect, and what standards we have to live by. This is an exciting time to be involved with Ryerson hockey.”

As the untried team pushes forward into unknown territory, Jordan will have the luxury of working with almost a completely new team. Although the women’s hockey team used to be known as the Toronto Stingers in the Golden Blades Women’s Hockey League (GBWHL), much of the originalteam is not represented in this year’s CIS iteration, as only four players made the cut.

“Most of them didn’t try out,” said Victoria Arci, who used to play on the Toronto Stingers. “I think the level of play became too much … it’s like a whole new game.”

Despite the fact that the Stingers went undefeated last season and won the GBWHL championship, Arci believes that the team is a tighter-knit group.

“[Last season] we went into every game knowing we would win so nothing really pulled us together,” said Arci. “The environment is different and the girls are different. It feels like a tighter group.”

Symbolic of the their fresh start, the team’s roster was largely compiled from open tryouts, although despite only being named the Rams’ head coach in April, Jordan did manage to do a little recruiting.

The prize of Jordan’s limited recruiting class was the acquisition of Emma Crawley. A highly touted goaltending prospect hailing from Herring Cove, N.S., Crawley originally signed a letter of intent to attend Saint Mary’s university, but quickly changed her mind when she heard that Jordan had signed on with Ryerson.

The addition of Crawley is especially important in Jordan’s eyes, because she believes that goaltending is an integral part of women’s hockey.

“We want to avoid putting the success of the team on her shoulders, but I do think she’ll be an integral part of the team,” said Jordan.

While an inaugural season would be expected to carry an air of uncertainty, Crawley thinks that her team is prepared for the jump, and remains cautiously optimistic about the season’s outlook.

“We aren’t the most polished or the most skilled, but this being our first year motivates us to work even harder,” said the first-year chemistry student. It feels like this team is pushing through the first year challenge together.”

Pushing through that challenge will be made easier with the addition of Laura McCusker and Kyla Thurston, two players that Jordan brought with her from Saint Mary’s. Unlike most of the team, both McCusker and Thurston each have four years of CIS experience, as they were important parts to the Huskies’ championship season in 2010. The two fifth-year players are expected to mentor the less experienced players both on and off the ice.

“[McCusker and Thurston] bring leadership to the table and know what the standard is,” said Jordan. “With four years of CIS experience, they’re going to be very important [to the team].”

Although Jordan knows that immediate success at this level is unlikely, she believes that a playoff spot is attainable, but is by no means the benchmark of success this season.

“Our goal is to keep focused on the path right now and not the destination,” she said. “That’s a healthy plan for a team’s first season.”

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