By Troy Langstaff
It takes close to six-and-a-half hours to drive from Toronto to the small town of Kirkland Lake, the hometown of Ryerson Rams women’s hockey star forward Erika Crouse.
With a population of just under 8,000 people, you won’t find any girls-only hockey leagues. Playing with the boys up until the age of 12, Crouse decided to move to New Liskeard in northern Ontario to develop her skills in an all-girls league.
After a few years in New Liskeard, she joined the Markham-Stouffville Stars Midget AA team. At the age of 16, she played with the Etobicoke Jr. Dolphins of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League—the highest level of junior women’s hockey in Ontario.
The league has produced the likes of Olympic Gold Medalists Natalie Spooner, Meghan Agosta and current assistant coach of the Ryerson women’s hockey team, Haley Irwin.
Crouse showcased her talent and proved that she belonged in her first season with the Jr. Dolphins, registering 23 points in 38 games. In her second year, she continued to put up numbers with 24 points, this time in only 33 games.
Those two consistent seasons, with dominant point totals, caught Ryerson’s attention.
“My assistant coach at the time, Margaret Jennings, had worked with that team for some practices,” said Rams head coach Lisa Haley. “[She] had noted that [Crouse] is definitely someone that might be getting overlooked a little bit for her age group.”
That’s when Jennings suggested bringing Crouse in for a visit to see if Ryerson could be the right fit.
The visit resulted in Crouse joining the Rams for the 2018-19 season. In her first year alone, she would go on to finish tied for seventh in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) in points and tied for sixth in goals.
Crouse’s breakout performance was to the surprise of many, including herself, as she earned the OUA and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year award. Crouse became the first Ryerson hockey player in school history to win both honours.
“It’s still surreal to me. Coming in as a rookie I didn’t think that I would get that much playing time,” said Crouse. “Fortunately, my coaches trusted me and my abilities. Even right now I still can’t believe that actually happened.”
In her rookie campaign, Crouse would go on to help her team reach the second round of the OUA playoffs for the first time ever.
On top of that, she scored the game-winning goal in the first round of game two against the Queen’s Gaels, in what was a must-win game for the Rams.
“There’s some players that get different labels [and] the label that belongs with Erika is gamechanger, said Haley. “She can change a game at any point in time, you give her a little bit of room, her instincts are fantastic, and all of a sudden she’s got a scoring chance out of nothing.”
Crouse has continued her offensive output into her second year. As of Jan. 27, she sits fourth in the OUA in points, with 17 and second in goals with 11 on the year through 18 games played.
After 45 regular season games in a Ryerson uniform, Crouse is already drawing comparisons to one of the best to ever suit up for the Rams, Ailish Forfar.
Forfar played two seasons with the Rams and in her final season set the program record for points in a season with 23.
“Ailish had a little bit more of an extroverted personality and was more of a vocal leader. I think Erika probably allows her work to speak for itself so maybe a subtle difference there,” said Haley. “In terms of handling big moments and wanting to be in those moments, there’s a lot of similarities there.”
Rams fifth-year forward Karli Nummikoski, who’s played with both Forfar and Crouse, also mentioned the similarities while praising Crouse for her unique skill set.
“In terms of on the ice, Erika is probably most like Ailish Forfar in terms of skill,” said Nummikoski.
“Her shot and her hands. I wish I had both of those. We definitely all admire that kind of skill from her,” added Nummikoski.
Even though she’s been killing it on the ice, Crouse can’t help but sometimes miss her place of origin—the small town of Kirkland Lake.
“I’m really close with my family, so even though I’ve been away from home for five years, every now and then I get homesick,” said Crouse. “It’s definitely draining but I don’t think anyone can ever get used to missing home.”
Although being 600 kilometres away from home has its downsides, Ryerson has become a place that has allowed her to transcend her game and make lifelong friends.
“There’s an amazing atmosphere here with this team. There’s just a great group of girls and I love coming to the rink and seeing them,” said Crouse.
The forward from the small town of Kirkland Lake continues to take the league by storm. As she looks to continue to dominate, Ryerson University has become her home away from home.
Way to go Erika …. doing yourself proud as well as your biggest fans back home. Keep up the great work ethic … most of all … keep smilin
This is so amazing Erika, Congratulations on all your accomplishments. You make the Town of Kirkland Lake proud! I hope to see
you on team Canada one day!