By Josh Beneteau
It’s been a long time coming but the Ryerson women’s hockey team has finally clinched a playoff spot for the first time in team history. The team officially made it after the Waterloo Warriors lost 7-1 to the Laurier Golden Hawks on Feb. 14.
“It’s surreal,” said graduating forward Chloe Richardson moments after watching Waterloo lose on a live-stream with some teammates. “I was here from the beginning and I’ve been through the crap and now look [at] where we are.”
That crap was the first three seasons of growing pains for the program. After joining the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) in 2011, the team won eight of their 76 games in the three seasons that followed.
This season things changed and the Rams finished with a 13-11 record, capping the season off with a 1-0 win over the York Lions on Feb. 12.
“We’re all very excited and there is a sense of relief. The growing pains and the really tough day after day days are behind us,” head coach Lisa Haley said. “Obviously we understand we’re going to lose more games but … it’s a relief that those hurdles are finally behind us.”
That surge in wins is the direct result of a big recruiting class that made an immediate impact. New Rams Kayla Karbonik and Emma Rutherford finished second and third in team scoring respectively, with Rutherford leading the team in goals with nine.
The team also benefited from strong play in net from Alex Armstrong and Ally Sarna. Armstrong’s 0.931 save percentage was ranked fifth in the OUA.
“Words probably can’t even describe it,” forward Melissa Wronzberg said. “We brought in nine new players this year and those players made a huge difference.”
Ryerson’s associate director of athletics Stephanie White was supposed to be the coach of the team when it was established in 2011. But in the months leading up to the team joining the OUA, White was offered her current job and needed to find a coaching replacement.
White called up Haley and asked her if she would be interested in coming to Ontario. Haley was the head coach at for the St. Mary’s Huskies in her home province of Nova Scotia but there was talk that the school was going to shut down its program. The two knew each other from coaching at the national level and White realized Haley was the most qualified person to bring on board.
“I went to Ivan (Joseph) and said ‘I have a better hockey coach than me’,” White recalled.
With the coach on board, White and Haley met to set out plans for the future of the new program. They mapped out a schedule of where they hoped to be, which was above .500 and in a playoff spot by the end of the fourth season.
The schedule had to be adjusted in the third season, when Haley took a year off to be an assistant with the women’s national team at the Sochi Olympics. But White says that the team is still on track.
“This year we definitely wanted to be pushing for the playoffs,” says White. “But I think the difference is that we didn’t expect the jump that we saw.”
The team ultimately finished in seventh, which means they will face the second place Guelph Gryphons in the first round. Ryerson beat Guelph once, 1-0 in a shootout on Jan. 17. The Gryphons beat Ryerson earlier in the season, 3-1 on Oct. 15.
To win the series, Haley says the team needs to keep the goals down and capitalize on their chances. She admits that Ryerson does enter as the underdog but says having played two close games against Guelph already does give the team the confidence needed to win the series.
“I think our team has a lot of confidence when we score first and are in a position where we are protecting the lead,” Haley said. “The odds are against, they are a very good hockey team. Everything has to go right for us to win.”
The best of three series will begin Feb. 19 in Guelph before coming back to Toronto on Feb. 21 for game two at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. If necessary, a third game will be played in Guelph on Feb. 22.