By Daniel Rocchi
Through the first three quarters of the regular season, the Ryerson men’s hockey team have struggled with consistency.
According to their head coach, these final weeks are for leaving the early season behind and proving they’re a playoff-calibre team.
“We’re a good team, [but] we have to work at being good,” said head coach Graham Wise. “We cannot go into any game thinking ‘we’re good.’ We have to go out there and prove that we’re good.”
Prior to the start of the 2015-2016 campaign, Wise pinpointed consistency as the key to a successful year.
“We have to … understand that you have to work hard right from the get-go through 28 games to be successful,” he told the Eyeopener in October.
Ryerson opened 2016 with a resounding 9-1 victory over archrival U of T, but dropped its next two games to Waterloo and Lakehead. The Rams managed to split the back-to-back against Lakehead with a 6-3 road win on Saturday night for their fourth win in their last ten games.
Special teams have been partially to blame for the Rams’ inability to find consistency. Ryerson’s powerplay ranks fourteenth out of 19 OUA teams, and seventh in the West division. The penalty kill is fifteenth in the league and only Toronto and Lakehead are worse in the West.
But the Rams special teams have shown new life in the new year.
In four games through 2016, Ryerson has already scored five powerplay goals on 19 opportunities. The penalty kill, meanwhile, has killed off 17 of 20 opposition powerplays. The Rams have also exploded for four short-handed goals in January, leading the OUA with six.
Ryerson has already scored five powerplay goals on 19 opportunities. In fact, Ryerson is tied for third in league powerplay percentage in January with only McGill, York and Carleton more efficient on the man-advantage.
“You get into the playoffs and late into seasons, the teams that are sound defensively, get good goaltending and have strong special teams are usally the teams that win,” said assistant coach Johnny Duco.
First-year goaltender Taylor Dupuis has been solid in net with fifth-year Troy Passingham out with an injury. Passingham started all 27 games for Ryerson last season, but hasn’t played since Nov. 28. He didn’t travel with the team to Lakehead, and Wise gave no timetable for his return.
Dupuis is 3-3 in Passingham’s absence, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average over that span.
Captain Michael Fine continues to lead the Rams offense in goals (11), powerplay goals (4) and points (20), but Ryerson has enjoyed scoring depth this season. Five Rams have scored five goals or more, and 20 of 25 skaters have at least one.
Ryerson returns home this week with a 10-11-0 record after collecting a crucial two points in Thunder Bay, Ont. Saturday’s win moved the Rams into sole possession of sixth place in the 10-team OUA West.
The top eight seeds qualify for the playoffs, and Ryerson, Laurier, Brock and U of T are all within four points of one another.
With only seven games left, Wise says it will take strong systems and structured play to ensure the Rams are playing past mid-February. And with what the Rams have done so far, the playoffs aren’t far off.