By Jacob Stoller
If the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team’s last two games are any indication, life without leading scorer Matt Mistele isn’t going to be easy.
Playing without Mistele isn’t a choice, as he’s slated to be on the shelf for four to six weeks, or possibly even the entire season, according to Rams’ head coach Johnny Duco. Mistele, who has 33 points in 18 games this season, got injured Jan. 6 against the Western Mustangs. It was a clear shot to the gut for the second-place Rams, as they went on to blow a two-goal lead and lose the game 4-3.
Facing off against the University of Toronto Blues on Thursday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Rams almost found themselves in a similar situation en route to a 7-5 win over their cross-town rivals, a victory that Duco’s squad narrowly achieved.
“We felt that in the second period, for whatever reason, we took our foot off the gas a little bit,” said Duco.
Goals from John Carpino and Erick DeLaurentis put the Rams up 2-0 to start out the second period, a lead which, on the surface, seemed like a cozy margin. However, it didn’t last long, as the division-worst Blues started playing angry—and boy, did it ever work.
“The Western [team] was a desperate one like this Toronto team,” said Duco. “They’re playing for their playoff lives, and these points mean a lot to them.”
The Rams found themselves off their game, and before they knew it, the scoreboard reflected it. In the first five minutes of the second period, the Rams had six shots that didn’t hit the net. While Ryerson continued to struggle on the offensive end, the Blues started to pick up a full head of steam—with Hunter Atchison putting Toronto on the board at the 13:40 mark.
“We talk about it all the time, the best way to break down a defense is to get a shot on net,” said Duco. “With our limited shots actually on the net, we felt that it eliminated some of the possession time that we would’ve had there in the offensive zone.”
The Rams responded quickly to Atchison’s strike, but the 3-1 lead wasn’t enough to fend off the Blues, who scored two more goals that period to tie the game at three.
The Rams’ first 40 minutes of play didn’t sit well with the team, and the scrum that ensued in the dying seconds of the second period surely goes to show how the Rams had lost their cool, and almost, lost the game.
But once the third-period buzzer sounded, it was a whole new hockey game—with the Rams scoring four of their seven total goals in the frame.
“…If we’re going to have home-ice in playoffs, we know that we have to dominate on home-ice [and] to come out at the start of the [third period] and get two quick ones kinda shows that we’re able to have a short memory and move on,” Duco said.
Ryerson captain Alex Basso blasted home a point-shot on the power play to score the game-winning goal. From that point on, it was the Rams’ who controlled the pace, and while the 7-5 scoreboard may not show it, there’s no doubt the Rams showed a great deal of resiliency to improve to 13-6 this season, with a 9-2 mark on home ice.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,’ [and how] we’re all going to have each other’s backs,” said Basso. “We have some amazing players— [our] four lines have a lot of talent, and I still think we’re the most talented team in the conference.”
The victory also displayed the array of talent that the Rams have, with the coaching staff pointing out that they have a tremendous amount of faith in the entire roster, despite the absence of their star forward.
“Obviously Matt Mistele is an irreplaceable piece of our hockey team, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in other guys’ [abilities] to step up,” said Duco. “Nobody is going to become him, so there’s no sense in trying. It’s just each guy, collectively, doing a little bit more.”
UP NEXT: The Rams face the Brock Badgers at Mattamy Athletic Centre Friday night. Puck drop is set for 7:15 p.m.