Rams men’s hockey team ready for one last dance with current core

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By Tom Pepper

The Rams men’s hockey team is back on the ice with high expectations after last year’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team is already off to a strong start with a 3-1-1 record in its five preseason games. 

The Rams won over 20 games in the two seasons prior to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) shutdown and look to continue their success now that hockey has returned.

“The group has come back in terrific spirit,” said Rams head coach Johnny Duco. “You can really see how much they appreciate the opportunity to be back competing, to be around one another again and to be in a competitive atmosphere.”

Although the Rams were off the ice for a year, the team was still hard at work during its extended offseason. The coaching staff hosted a variety of team activities, including team workouts and stickhandling clinics on Zoom with associate coach Nathaniel Brooks. 

Duco said players were encouraged to keep in touch with their teammates and coaches as well as hold each other accountable both athletically and academically. The end result is a competitive, tight-knit team eager to win Ryerson’s first-ever OUA hockey championship and the league’s top prize, the Queen’s Cup.

“We’ve had a lot of guys that could’ve graduated and moved on, but they wanted to come back for one more opportunity with this group”

“We’ve got a team that has a chance to win the Queen’s Cup,” said Duco. “In order for us to get there, it’s going to be a process. For us, a big goal this year is player advancement and player development.”

The Rams have a handful of recruits who haven’t played a regular season game with the team due to last season’s cancellation, including Kevin Gursoy, Kyle Bollers, Elijah Roberts, Cole Resnick and Ryan Wells. In addition, some of the team’s most recent recruits will have a chance to make their Rams debuts this season. Jeremiah Addison, Michael Cramarossa and Lucas Peressini transferred to Ryerson from other schools, while Joe Rupoli, Chris Payfair and Jackson Doherty are in their first year.

Despite the influx of new players, the team’s veterans are expected to carry the majority of the load this season.

Newly-named captain Jared Walsh, now in his fourth year with the team, highlights the team’s veteran leadership group, accompanied by assistant captains Matt Nosella, Hayden McCool, Cavin Leth and David Miller. For many of them, it will be their last chance at competing for the Queen’s Cup.

“I’ve seen some of the veteran guys on our team work harder than they ever have,” said Duco. “That’s kudos to them, the effort they’re putting in to make sure that they’re successful here at Ryerson, but also working toward the future of trying to play some pro hockey when they’re done.”

According to Duco, a whopping 13 players are expected to graduate at the end of the season, making this year especially meaningful for the players and coaching staff alike. The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on some of the best years in program history, and now they’re looking to make up for lost time.

“It’s just such a unique opportunity,” said Duco. “We’ve had a lot of guys that could have graduated and moved on, but they wanted to come back for one more opportunity with this group.”

“I’ve seen some of the veteran guys on our team work harder than they ever have”

Under Duco, the Rams have a 40-16 record in conference play over the past two seasons. The last time the team was on the ice, they were eliminated in a tightly-contested OUA West semi-final by the eventual bronze-medalist Western Mustangs. Ryerson will sport a similar-looking roster with some upgrades, in hopes of replicating and surpassing the success it’s had in recent years.

The effort players have put in throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will be on display when the Rams host the Brock Badgers at the Mattamy Athletic Centre for its regular season opener on Nov. 4. After that, the team hits the road for a four-game road trip, playing only one more home game prior to the new year.

“We’re going to lean on the experience that we have in the room and the willingness for them to do what it takes to come together as a group to give themselves the best chance this season,” said Duco.

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