Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States of America, once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
That famous quote was in reference to his foreign policy; however, it could very well be the slogan for this season’s captain of the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team: Stephanie Chiste.
“She’s not that vocal but, when she does speak, the whole team listens,” said teammate and fellow fifth-year senior Michelle Evagelou about the defenceman. “Everyone looks up to her.”
“Steph is not the loudest person in the room, which is totally fine with me,” added third-year assistant captain Alex Rodriguez. “What makes her such a good captain, in my eyes, is how she can lead by example.”
Although she stands just over five feet tall, Chiste is one of the best shutdown defenders in the OUA. She brings a consistent, physical approach to the game every time she steps onto the ice and regularly is tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top offensive stars.
“She’s the type of player that, when she plays the right type of game, is hardly noticed when she’s on the ice,” said Ryerson’s head coach Lisa Haley. “She does a lot of the simple things, but is so strong and powerful and solid defensively.”
“She’s someone you can rely on to just be there,” added Rodriguez, also a defenceman on the team. “She’s gonna be that player that always has your back. If I’m going for a risky pinch, I know that she’ll be there to cover me. That sucks for her to play with me, but I feel great about it.”
On top of that, the feisty Urban Sustainability major has never been afraid to stand up for her teammates on the ice or get involved in some ‘extracurriculars’ after the whistle. She’s currently first in the province with 34 penalty minutes in 14 games this season. Furthermore, in 112 career OUA regular season and playoff contests, she’s racked up 175 minutes.
“That’s just who she is,” said Rodriguez. “She sticks up for teammates on the ice. If someone takes a dirty hit, she has no problem protecting them... She’s a force to be reckoned with.”
All of these factors made Chiste an obvious choice to be named the fourth captain in program history in early October. Although all of her teammates saw it coming, she admits that the announcement caught her by surprise.
“Lisa came up to me after practice and said she wanted to talk to me,” said Chiste with a smile earlier this season while recalling that day. “When I went into her office, she talked about how the leadership roles are going to work this year and then she said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the captain’. Then I got really excited and really nervous.”
“I’ve had the ‘A’ before, but having the ‘C’ is a whole other level of leadership I would say. I’m a little nervous, but very excited and I feel that since we were allowed to vote, my team wanted me to be a leader… I was very proud and happy that people thought of me that way.”
She wasn’t entering an easy situation though. The Rams were coming off a disastrous campaign where they finished last in the league with a record of 3-0-18-3 and missed the playoffs by 20 points. The group was in serious need of a new team culture and a new voice to guide them.
“I like to listen before I give my opinion and I feel like last year there was a lot of opinions to listen to,” she said. “What I learned last year is that there are going to be different opinions about things but, you need to support whatever happens. You have to be behind it so other people will get behind it as well.”
It was a steady progression to get to this point. Since joining the team in 2012, the native of Schomberg, Ont. has slowly been building towards filling this role. She might not have noticed it, but the people around her certainly did.
“I think early on in her career, she didn’t really portray herself as a powerful leader in the room,” said Haley. “I think what she’s done is earn the respect of every player that has had the chance to play with her so her leadership has grown in that way. By taking those small steps and building those layers, she’s built a solid foundation that has made her, without a doubt, the most respected player in the room.”
Chiste’s approach to leading the team and the insurgence of a large, talented recruiting class has worked wonders for Ryerson so far this season. Through the first half of the schedule, they’ve already surpassed last season’s win total of three. The team’s record heading into the holiday break of 4-1-4-3 puts them in a four way tie for eighth place in the OUA standings.
Ryerson’s performance early this year might be a surprise to some, but it hasn’t been to Chiste. She predicted her team’s success well before the Rams hit the ice for their season opener against the Brock Badgers on October 13th, 2016.
“It’s a new year with new people and new faces,” she said at the time. “I’m so excited because I feel like we have a good group of girls. There are positive vibes and a lot of talent on the team… We’re going to kill it this year and leave last year behind.”
With Chiste at the helm and the team hitting its stride, it will be exciting to see what they have in store when they push to get back into the postseason after the holiday break.