By Daniel Rocchi
Ryerson Rams (1st OUA West, 22-4-2) vs Waterloo Warriors (8th OUA West, 12-12-4)
Game 1: Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. @ Mattamy Athletic Centre
Season Series vs Waterloo: 2-0-0
Goals For: 12
Goals Against: 3
With the best Ontario University Athletics (OUA) regular season in program history officially over, Ryerson’s men’s hockey team begins its most anticipated OUA playoff run ever against a familiar foe on Wednesday night.
For the second season in a row, Ryerson will face the Waterloo Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs. Last season, the sixth-seeded Rams upset the third-place Warriors in a two-game sweep capped by a thrilling 5-4 overtime win on home ice in game two. While Ryerson came into that series as the underdog, the expectations for the Rams this postseason are higher than perhaps any other team in the OUA West.
The Rams—who finished the season as the fourth-ranked university team in Canada—have never been past the second round of the OUA playoffs. This season, Ryerson appears to have its best chance at ending that streak after setting program records in wins (22) and points (46) as the team went 22-4-2 to finish with the best overall record in the entire OUA.
A balanced offence was the key for Ryerson this season, as the Rams set a program record for goals scored with 135, good for tops in the province and second-most in Canada behind the University of New Brunswick. Twenty-three of the 27 Ryerson skaters to dress in at least one game this season scored a goal. Five players had 10 goals or more while six eclipsed the 20-point mark.
Forwards Aaron Armstrong and Michael Fine led the way with career seasons for Ryerson, finishing first and third in OUA scoring with 46 and 37 points, respectively. The pair finished tied for second in the league with 17 goals apiece, while Armstrong led all players with 29 assists. In their final game of the regular season, Armstrong set a program record for most points in a season while Fine became the all-time leading scorer in Ryerson men’s hockey history.
The Rams are heavy favourites in this series, but can’t afford to take the eighth-seeded Warriors lightly. Waterloo has won five of its last seven games, and had won three straight regular season match-ups against Ryerson prior to last year’s playoff series. This year, the Rams took both games of the season series by a combined score of 12-3. Their most recent win over the Warriors came on Jan. 19, an 8-3 triumph in which they chased Waterloo starting goalie Mike Morrison with five goals on nine first-period shots.
If the Warriors are to upset Ryerson, Morrison will have to be at his best. The six-foot-one goaltender has given the Rams trouble in the past. Excluding his poor performance against Ryerson in January, Morrison is 4-4-1 in nine career regular season and playoff games against the Rams. He boasts a 3.29 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage over those nine starts, including a pair of shutouts with 48 saves or more. In last year’s playoffs, Morrison turned aside 75 of 84 shots he faced in the two-game series.
Morrison is likely to be busy in this series, with Ryerson averaging an OUA-best 35.8 shots a game during the regular season. He and his teammates will also have to find a way to shut down the league’s second-best powerplay (24 per cent). Only Concordia had more shorthanded goals than Ryerson’s six this season, but Rams head coach Johnny Duco said he expects Waterloo’s preference to run a powerplay with two defenders instead of four forwards to make scoring on the penalty kill more difficult.
Warriors blueliners Stephan Silas and Mike Moffat anchor the Waterloo powerplay and are key players at both ends of the ice. Silas—a former fourth-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche—finished tied for second on his team in goals with eight while Moffat’s 12 assists ranked second among the Warriors. Along with Morrison, Silas and Moffat, the Warriors will be relying on goal scoring leader Riley Sonnenburg (11 goals) and leading assist getter Zac Coulter (21 assists) for big contributions.
Duco has confirmed Charlie Graham as Ryerson’s starting goaltender for the opening game of the series. Playing in his first season with the Rams, the former Sarnia Sting netminder started 10 of Ryerson’s first 15 games of the year, going 8-1-1 before an injury forced him to miss five games between Dec. 3 and Jan. 13. Since returning from injury, Graham is 5-0-1 with a 2.14 goals against average, a .942 save percentage and one shutout. He stopped 53 of 56 shots he faced in the Rams’ two games against Waterloo this season, including all 22 he faced in their 4-0 win in November.
Game one is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. The Rams will travel to Waterloo for game two at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17. Game three—if necessary—will be played at the MAC on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Game one will be available on Rogers TV Toronto and all three games can be streamed live on OUA.tv.