By Tom Pepper
Since stepping into the head coach spotlight five years ago, Johnny Duco has led the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey program to some of its most successful seasons in Ontario University Athletics (OUA).
Duco served as the team’s assistant coach for three years prior to being named interim head coach for the 2016-17 season. In his first year as bench boss, he led the Rams to an incredible 22-6 record, good for first place in the OUA, and ultimately earned himself the permanent head coach title on April 19, 2017.
The Rams hit the 20-win mark in back-to-back seasons before being sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If OUA hockey manages to start up again for the 2021-22 season, Duco will look to continue building his impressive resumé in the sport that spans back to his days of youth.
“I often look back on my experiences as a player as a reflection tool,” said Duco, who spent time playing in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League and NCAA Division III before transitioning to coaching. “I was very fortunate to have some great coaches along the way.”
“I always wanted to be a teacher and coach”
As a former student-athlete at the State University of New York at Oswego and Buffalo State College, Duco said he speaks from experience when connecting with his team. He tries to help his players with time management and any stress they may be facing to elevate their athletic and academic performances.
He’s not only familiar with what it takes to balance competitive hockey and school; he’s committed his entire life to doing both. In 2010, Duco received his Master’s of Science and Education from Medaille College in Buffalo to become a certified teacher.
“I always wanted to be a teacher and coach,” he said. “When I finished my playing career in the NCAA, I decided to continue my education in pursuit of becoming a teacher. During that time, I was fortunate enough to get a great opportunity coaching junior hockey before coming to Ryerson.”
“I often look back on my experiences as a player as a reflection tool”
Prior to joining Ryerson, Duco spent six years behind minor and junior hockey benches. After three seasons in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, he coached the Greater Metro Hockey League’s (GMHL) Bradford Rattlers to a perfect 42-0-0 record and Russell Cup championship during the 2012-13 season. He would go on to win GMHL Co-Coach of the Year honours and was named to the Rams’ coaching staff for the following season.
Heading into his fifth campaign as the Ryerson head coach, Duco is still eyeing his first university hockey championship, which would also be the first in the school’s history. He believes the path to winning OUA men’s hockey’s most coveted trophy, the Queen’s Cup, begins with building strong relationships with his players and establishing a winning culture in the dressing room.
“My ultimate goal is to provide my student-athletes a wholesome experience and develop lifelong friendships,” he said. “In achieving this, I believe a culture of winning will follow both on and off the ice.”
Duco added that when hockey resumes next season, he plans to continue investing in his players to help them become the best versions of themselves. In the meantime, he is spending the majority of his free time with his family, especially his three young children, who he says are “good at tiring [him] out!”
The dream of Ryerson winning its first-ever Queen’s Cup championship is alive and well, with the team combining for an outstanding 40-16 regular-season record over the past two years under Duco. After being eliminated in the OUA West Semi-Final last season by the eventual bronze-medalist Western Mustangs, the Rams will be eager to hit the ice again for Duco’s seventh season behind the Ryerson bench.