By Hayden Godfrey
When Ryerson Rams men’s hockey captain Matt Mistele met teammate Zachary Shankar in the tunnel after their Game 3 loss to the Western Mustangs, his message was clear. “Keep your head up,” he said to the young blueliner as he gave him a big hug.
In a sense, this Rams squad as a whole will need to do just that after being eliminated for the fifth straight year in the second round of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Queen’s Cup playoffs, this time in overtime and by a score of 3-2 against the No. 8 seed Mustangs.
As swaths of Rams players—who displayed various levels of emotions on their way out—left the locker room dejected, there was a sense of hopelessness, even though they played their hearts out and, for the most part, were the far superior team through the majority of the series.
“I was proud of the way we played all season,” Rams head coach Johnny Duco said following the game. “I’m really proud of the senior group we’re graduating and the legacy they’ve left behind.”
During the post-game handshakes, Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer emphatically expressed something to Duco and fellow coach Kori Cheverie.
“[Singer] was just saying that he thought we might’ve been the better team and they were sneaking away with one,” Duco admitted. “They played really well, so that’s just him being nice.”
As soon as the puck dropped, the Rams were on top of their opponents. For the majority of the first frame, it looked as though the Rams from Game 1 were resurrected for the biggest game of their season, even if they didn’t manage to get on the board early.
But, with five minutes remaining in the frame, Mathew Santos squeaked a loose puck just underneath the left pad of Mustangs goaltender Luke Peressini for his third of the post-season.
In the second, the Rams played solidly, despite briefly losing defender Matt Nosella to injury. Still, the Mustangs took advantage of a poorly officiated stretch of hockey and tied things up courtesy of a beautiful deke by Kyle Pettit.
After a tense start to the third, the Rams took the lead eight minutes in thanks to an unexpectedly swift move from the notoriously offensive Shankar.
To their credit, the Mustangs didn’t quit, answering back with two minutes remaining. This time, it was Franco Sproviero who scored, which was preceded by an emphatic celebration at the blueline.
After 60 tense minutes, things were all knotted up at 2-2, only for the tie to be broken midway through the overtime period, when Kolten Olynek tucked one under Rams netminder Garrett Forrest’s pad to end it.
From here, the Rams will work on developing their strong young core—which will be led by Mathew Santos, Jared Walsh, Patrick Fellows, Hayden McCool, and others—while also presumably putting emphasis on recruiting new names to make up for the departures of Mistele, Marcus Hinds, Devon Paliani, and more.
“The biggest thing is to remember that feeling, and it really sucks,” said graduating goalie Taylor Dupuis. “I think this group was the most special in my five years here, and with that, we were able to become a family.”