By Hayden Godfrey
Lisa Haley, the head coach of the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team, is considered a rather stoic and composed individual. A staple in Canadian hockey, Haley has seen a lot of big moments, including an Olympic Games and four International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championships.
Naturally, she’s learned to harness impulsive feelings and stay calm, no matter what.
But, on Sunday night, she showed considerable emotion after addressing her team following their elimination at the hands of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in the second round of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) McCaw Cup playoffs, by a score of 3-2 in overtime.
“It’s hard not to cry for sure, but the only reason to cry is because it’s over, not because we have anything to regret,” she said. “This was probably one of the best hockey games we’ve played all season.”
To say the game that had unfolded before her eyes was breathtaking would be an understatement.
Inside the wooden barn that is Varsity Arena, fans of both teams packed the old seats, banged on pots and pans, and stood behind their teams for almost four full periods. At the start of the game, a passionate Rams fan dressed in gold—who lost his voice by the end of the night from screaming so loud—was holding an aluminum bucket and a wooden spoon.
By the end of the night, all that was left was a splintered wand and a shredded piece of metal.
On the ice, both squads showed heart and perseverance, executing perfect play after perfect play. Both goaltenders, undoubtedly nervous in times of trouble, kept their composure.
But in the end, the Varsity Blues triumphed, taking the rubber match of the second round of the OUA McCaw Cup playoffs. For the second straight night, the Rams valiantly pushed the Varsity Blues to the brink and forced overtime, only to fall at the most intense of times.
Just like the first two games of the series, the first frame was marked primarily by the dominance of the Varsity Blues, who put pressure on the Rams defence and forced goaltender Rachel Seeley to stay on her toes. Eight minutes in, they broke through on a Louie Bieman snapshot, which gave her team, and the home crowd at Varsity Arena, some energy early.
In the second period, the Rams showed some more life, challenging the Blues on several rushes, but fell behind even further midway through the frame when Natasha Athanasakos batted a loose puck under Seeley’s blocker to give her squad a two-goal lead.
“We always want to continue to push the bar,” Haley remarked. “Having the season end this way is a lot of motivation to make sure that, if we get this opportunity again, we get the job done.”
With two minutes to go in the middle frame, the Rams got on the board when Lauren Nicholson floated a shot that escaped the screen and barely sailed past Blues netminder Erica Fryer. After 40 minutes, the Rams were down 2-1 while out-shooting their opponents 26-15.
After both passionate fan bases traded chirps (and creative chants) during the second intermission, the Rams tied things up in brilliantly exciting fashion shortly into the third.
While on the penalty kill, Rams forward Olivia Giardetti found open ice and skated down the right-wing, looking to do damage. After sliding to the front of the net and toe-dragging her way past a Varsity Blues defender, Giardetti tucked the puck under Fryer’s pad and proceeded to fly over the opposing goalie, Bobby Orr-style.
As the dying seconds came and went, and overtime loomed, a sense of eerie fright fell over the previously vivacious arena.
It was Athanasakos that ended things with a swift backhand shot that somehow evaded a sprawling Seeley and found the net. Despite dominating most of the overtime period, the Rams were outdone by a momentary lapse of judgement.
It was almost as if time stopped, and the only ones moving were the swaths of Varsity Blues supporters who leapt into the air in glorious triumph. In the end, the most successful season in the young Rams program’s history ended in heartbreaking fashion.
Haley though, is confident in her team, especially given the marvellously passionate performance she got from them in the team’s final game.
“I have full confidence in the group coming back,” Haley concluded. “It’s a team effort from top to bottom, regardless of what your role is on our team.”
As captain Kryshanda Green and five other seniors depart from a program they worked so hard to build, a crucial chapter in the program’s development comes to an end. Though the road ahead is as ambiguous as it is intimidating, the Rams have positioned themselves well and have picked up some much-deserved support along the way.