By Ramisha Farooq and Harlan Nemerofsky
Ryerson Athletics handed the men’s hockey team a seven-day suspension Monday evening after a two-week-long investigation found that Rams hockey players drank alcohol during an Oct. 18 preseason trip to Princeton, N.J.
According to Ryerson’s director of athletics Ivan Joseph, the assistant coach to the men’s hockey team, Lawrence Smith, has been relieved of his duties and head coach Graham Wise has been suspended for four games. The hockey team will also forfeit its next two games as a result of the suspension.
Following the Rams final exhibition game against the Princeton Tigers, Rams players violated a clause in the student-athlete handbook which states: “Alcohol may not be consumed by Rams athletes or staff for the duration of road trips (from the time of departure until the time of arrival back in Toronto).”
“Long story short, they were in the hotel room, they were drinking alcohol,” said Joseph. “No, alcohol can be [consumed] anytime time when you’re representing university, we have a zero-tolerance policy… They admitted their responsibility in it, and this is something we’ll look to rectify.”
All but one player on the team is of legal American drinking age, which is 21.
Numerous attempts were made to contact coach Wise. He declined to comment.
Joseph said that assistant coach Smith was not present in the players’ hotel room during the incident. The Eyeopener made numerous attempts at contacting Ryerson’s Human Resources department to determine exactly why Smith is no longer employed by Ryerson. At the time of print, no one from HR had responded to those requests.
In addition to forfeiting games against the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Queen’s University this week, the team and coaches will not be able to use the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) for the length of their suspension. The team will not have access to the weight room, the therapy room, their change rooms and their dressing rooms.
The team was notified of the consequences the evening of Nov. 4 at approximately 4 p.m. in a players-only meeting.
“From our point of view, we made mistakes no question about it. We recognize the rules and we broke them, and we accept our punishment,” said men’s hockey team captain Andrew Buck. “All I can say is we didn’t do anything illegal, but we broke rules and now we have to pay the punishment for it.”
Bryan Crawford, executive director of Ontario University Athletics (OUA), said incidents like this happen once a year at the most.
“We’re pleased that [Ryerson] has taken the steps to address that code of conduct breech and that’s about all there is to it,” said Crawford. “OUA student athletes have a standard to uphold and they need to uphold that standard to represent both themselves and their institution and the league that they play in as a whole.”
A source close to the team who did not want to be identified told The Eyeopener that he felt vilified by the media’s reaction to the suspension.
“We are being seen as drunken hockey players that went out of control on a US road trip and that’s not true at all. We were in our hotel rooms, watching couple movies, having a couple beers, bonding,” said the source. “That’s how our hockey culture is. If you go play hard and you go have some beers, you go to bed, you wake up the next morning, and you do it again.”
Assistant captain Brian Birkhoff said that he has never seen the team consume alcohol on road trips during his two years on the team and that there were no outside guests in the hotel room at the time.
“It stings, obviously,” said Birkhoff. “We were on a great run but we broke the rules. We’ll take it in stride here, learn from it and we’ll be better because of it.”
“It’s disappointing to see a person whose put so much into our program like Lawrence Smith, no longer be with us,” said Buck. “We come back next Monday and our record is 5-4. And that’s all we think about and hopefully we come back and win a bunch of games.”
“From our standpoint, we’re focused on winning hockey games and we learned from the mistakes that we made, and we accept the punishment,” said Buck.