By Devin Jones
Measured expectations are everything in the sports world. The long hours training and breaking down the same game-play footage over and over again — all with the expectation that your team will come out on top with the best regular season record, a playoff berth and a championship.
So if the season defining motto for the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team is any indication, expectations are higher than ever for the team to make a statement.
“Respect everyone, fear no one,” said captain Jessica Hartwick. “It’s coming in with the mentality that we’re just as good if not better than these other teams, and recognizing our full potential. We need to build off of everything we accomplished last year, and just not be afraid to go out and win those games.”
Coming off a program best 13- win season, and a first ever playoff berth that saw the five-year old program defeated by a strong University of Guelph squad in the first round, most teams would be nervous to drum up a repeat performance. The Rams though, are excited. With the chance at revenge against Guelph early on in the season coupled with a take no prisoners attitude, the Rams are looking for more than just marginal improvement this time around.
On paper, the Rams are dealing with a difficult schedule right from the start, with four out of the first five games of the season coming against teams that made the playoffs last season. But part of the Rams new mentality is centered on taking a pragmatic approach to each game. Whether or not a team is difficult to play against isn’t something the team is particularly concerned with.
“There are no easy games in the OUA anymore, and based on stats I would agree those early games are going to be tough ones, but we hope that teams will feel the same way about us — that we won’t be an easy matchup either,” said head coach Lisa Haley. “We want to prove that we’re a tough team to play against and that those points could be ours as much as our opponents.’”
This season the Rams will also be dealing with the periodic absence of Haley throughout the year, as she’ll be helming the Canadian U18s women’s team for the 2015-16 season.
Having already coached the national team to a 2-1 series win over the USA national team in preparation for the tournament start in January, Haley is adamant communication with the Rams won’t be an issue. Coaching the Canadian team, Haley says the ability to be a “student of the game,” and constantly be learning from others, has made a huge impact on how she approaches the way she coaches the Rams.
This clear communication is due in part to the strength of the Ram’s assistant coaching staff stepping up during Haley’s departure. With Ken Dufton, Francois Lavoie and Margaret Jennings on the bench this season, more than 30 years of cumulative hockey experience will be guiding the Rams into the playoffs and beyond.
“I think that now we have an understanding of what she’s expecting of us, it’ll work well whether or not she’s physically here all the time,” said third-year goaltender Alex Armstrong. “The assistant coaches this year are great. MJ [Jennings] has stepped up a lot and has been helping out with the defense.”
The Rams have seen quite the evolution from a first year program that went 1-25 in 2011, to a team that went 13-11 last season and made its first playoff appearance in program history. Haley credits this to the players’ ability to follow and consistently trust the long-term plan the coaching staff has put into place over the seasons. A weak spot for the Rams last season was playing on the road where they went 6-6. According to Armstrong, stymieing “road legs,” — taking breaks on long bus trips — is crucial to being ready come game time.
For the Rams, training for the season focused on speed, and the ability to play the third period with the same stamina and intensity as the first. According to Haley, the fitness testing for the team this off-season was “off the charts,” and is a “testament to how dedicated the team is to winning.”
When the women’s hockey team kicks off their season Oct. 8 at home against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, its journey to the playoffs will begin. And if the team plays the way Haley knows they can, the expectations the team have for themselves will be answered in the best way possible.
“We’re united as a squad. It’s important that despite whatever situation we’re in we stick together,” Haley said.
“It’s a team sport and the only way we’re going to be successful this season is if we stick together and do this as a team.”