By Tom Pepper
The Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team ranked third in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) last season with a record of 20-5-3 (43 points), and expectations for next season are even higher after they added nine highly-touted players to their roster in the offseason.
The Rams are hoping their newest acquisitions will help push them closer to their goal of winning the first Queen’s Cup in Ryerson University history, especially after a disappointing elimination by the eventual bronze-medalist Western Mustangs in Game 3 of the OUA West Semi-Final last season.
2020-21 Recruiting Class: Forwards
Elijah Roberts, a native of Brampton, Ont., was the Rams’ first recruit of the 2020-21 class and joined the team after five seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Kitchener Rangers and Niagara IceDogs. The five-foot-nine defenceman-turned-forward describes himself as a leader and served as an alternate captain for the IceDogs. Roberts recorded 108 points (23 goals, 85 assists) in 294 OHL games played and represented Team Canada at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2016.
“Elijah brings our program a ton of speed and versatility,” said Rams head coach Johnny Duco. “After playing the majority of his OHL career as a defender, Elijah has now transitioned to a full-time forward and someone that will continue to develop as he gains confidence and experience at his new position.”
The second recruit for 2020-21 is Kyle Bollers, who joins the team after tying for first in Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) scoring for 2019-20 with 86 points (39 goals and 47 assists) in 52 games played. His elite combination of playmaking and goal-scoring abilities earned him OJHL First-Team All-Star honours.
Prior to becoming an OJHL star, Bollers played three seasons in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit and his hometown Oshawa Generals, recording 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 168 games played.
“Kyle is a highly skilled forward coming off an incredible season as the leading scorer in the OJHL,” said Duco. He added that Bollers is a player he feels will “continue to improve and push his teammates to be even better.”
The Rams added another great leader to their program in Scott Feser. Hailing from Red Deer, Alta., Feser played the past four seasons with the York Lions, serving as the team’s captain while putting up 83 points (33 goals, 50 assists) in 110 games played. He is a three-time U Sports Academic All-Canadian and was a member of the Lions’ 2017 Queen’s Cup OUA championship team.
Prior to his OUA career, Feser played five seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Red Deer Rebels and Swift Current Broncos, tallying 105 points (44 goals, 61 assists) in 230 games played. He also served as an alternate captain for the Broncos.
“I believe I bring a versatile forward who can be counted on in any game situation,” said Feser. “My experience and leadership can be counted on as well.”
The fourth forward added to the roster for 2020-21, Cole Resnick, joined the team after playing the past three seasons with the Oshawa Generals. In 115 games played, the six-foot Thornhill, Ont. native recorded 19 points (six goals, 13 assists). One of the highlights of his career was putting up six points (four goals, two assists) in 15 games played during the Generals’ 2018-19 playoff run to the OHL’s Eastern Conference Final.
Resnick says that Ryerson’s “impressive hockey program” led him to choose the Rams as the next landing spot in his hockey career. He describes himself as “a competitive player who relies on [his] high work ethic for success.”
In addition, the Rams locked in another high-quality playmaker by adding LaSalle, Ont. native forward Kevin Gursoy. He has spent the last three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Charlottetown Islanders and Halifax Mooseheads, tallying 114 points (51 goals, 63 assists) in 187 games played.
Gursoy is an offensive player capable of making plays at both ends of the ice, winning the Mooseheads’ Defensive Forward Award last season while serving as an alternate captain. His outstanding performance also won him the Islanders’ Player of the Year Award in 2018-19.
“Kevin is a smart hockey player with a high hockey IQ,” said head coach Duco. “[He] is coming off a career-best season in the QMJHL where he showed that he can play at a high level with top players. We look forward to helping Kevin keep this positive momentum going forward as a Ram.”
The last, and certainly not least, forward in the 2020-21 recruiting class is Matthew Whittaker. The six-foot-two forward returned to his native Toronto to join the Rams after playing four seasons with Mercyhurst University in the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) of NCAA Division 1, followed by a five-game stint with the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League). Whittaker recorded 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists) in 106 NCAA games played and was named to the AHA All-Academic team.
“I’m an extremely competitive person and bring that competitiveness to my game,” said Whittaker. “I like to be creative with the puck and make plays offensively, while also being someone that is dependable on all 200 feet of the rink.”
2020-21 Recruiting Class: Defencemen
Ryan Wells was the Rams’ only defensive recruit for 2020-21, joining the team after leading the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) in defensive scoring for 2019-20 with 72 points (23 goals, 49 assists) in 47 games played for the Caledonia Corvairs. He served as captain for the Corvairs and played parts of three seasons with his hometown Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL. Wells says his decision to play for the Rams was influenced by a talented roster that he hopes will help take his game to the next level.
“When you look at the roster, it makes [the] decision easier with the amount of major junior experience the players have, which will help me grow as a player,” said Wells. “You hear nothing but great things when it comes to the coaching staff and the academics. I am excited to be joining Ryerson and can’t wait for the next four years.”
2020-21 Recruiting Class: Goaltenders
The first of two goaltending recruits for 2020-21, Mack Shields joined the Rams alongside former York teammate Feser after four seasons with the Lions in the OUA. Shields has recorded season save percentages ranging from .910% to .930% throughout his undergraduate hockey career, proving himself as a strong and reliable netminder.
In 2016-17, his rookie season, the Saskatoon native was awarded the title of OUA West Rookie of the Year and named to the OUA West First-Team All-Star roster and OUA West All-Rookie Team enroute to a Queen’s Cup championship. He was also a member of the OUA West Second-Team All-Star roster in 2017-18 and U SPORTS All-Star roster in 2018, suiting up for a two-game series against Team Canada’s World Junior prospects in December of that year. Prior to his OUA stardom, Shields played four seasons in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen, Prince George Cougars and Medicine Hat Tigers.
“The Ryerson hockey program is highly respected in the OUA and is always one of the favourites to contend for the league championship,” said Shields, regarding his decision to sign with the Rams.
Bailey Brkin rounded out the newest class of Rams goaltenders after a season with the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL, recording a .885% save percentage while going 17-8-3 in 31 games played.
Before transferring to the OHL, the six-foot-three netminder played four seasons in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos, Kootenay Ice, Spokane Chiefs and Moose Jaw Warriors, posting a career-high .914 save percentage in 45 games played with the Chiefs in 2018-19. The Sherwood Park, Alta. native is a large presence best known for his composure in the crease.
Brkin describes himself as a “big game player” who is “competitive, 100% all in or nothing.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of the 2020-21 OUA hockey season, it is yet to be determined when we will see the refreshed Rams roster take to the ice. Although it may be a while before they return to play, the Rams have established themselves as strong Queen’s Cup contenders and will be ready to battle whenever hockey resumes.