TORONTO - Many were in attendance Thursday night at the MAC to celebrate and show their appreciation towards former head coach Graham Wise and his 35 years of CIS service. On one hand, it was a night to remember for Wise and company, but for the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team, a night to forget.
The Rams suffered a 6-2 loss at the hands of the York Lions Thursday night and, in the process, relinquished their spot atop the OUA West division.
Coming into Thursday, the Rams held a game in hand and a one point lead over the Lions and were hopeful to achieve some wiggle room with a win. Instead, a new alpha dog will take their place at the front of the pack, after the Lions leapfrogged past the Rams for first with a 6-2 victory.
The biggest story of the night stemmed once gain from the poor play of the Rams’ penalty kill. Last in the OUA, a well aware Lions lineup took full advantage of their opportunities and went a perfect four-for-four while up a man. The PK has been the Achilles heel for the Rams all season, and what’s been most frustrating for head coach Johnny Duco and his coaching staff, is that it’s not from a lack of practice.
“We worked on the penalty kill the last two days leading up to the game and they go four-for-four on the power play,” stated Duco. “And on things that we have talked about in practice. I think there was just a lack of focus and a lack of execution.”
The Rams’ inability to keep the puck out of their net was an impactful problem throughout Thursday’s loss, but the Lions’ ability to score looked rather unstoppable. The offensive contribution along with the stellar play of Lions’ goaltender Alex Fotinos, combined for a lethal attack and was a true example of what can happen on particular nights in the game of hockey.
“Hockey is a funny game and once in a while you run into a game where nothing seems to go right,” said Duco. “The other goalie is playing well and it makes for a long night and that’s kind of the product that we fell into tonight.”
Fotinos, in his second straight start after a 39 save shutout performance in a 5-0 win over Western last weekend, allowed just two goals on 40 shots against the Rams. He earned the start Thursday after his stellar play against the Mustangs and may have earned a third straight start with his remarkable play against the Rams.
The Rams’ Daniel Clairmont opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game with a well-timed deflection. Mitch Theoret fought off a Lions defender and found Brandon Devlin at the blue-line, who sent a seeing-eye slap pass to the stick of Clairmont for the goal.
Just moments later, the Rams’ Luke Mercer in his first game back from injury was called for interference, initiating the long night of PK struggles for the men in blue and gold.
The Lions’ top defenseman, Derek Sheppard, walked the line before sending a floater towards a patient Greg Milner in front, who deflected home his first of two on the night, evening the game at ones early in the first.
Both teams traded chances and hits throughout the remainder of the period, but both Fotinos and starting goaltender Charlie Graham of the Rams steered the rest of the shots aside, and forced the opening period to end tied at one.
The Rams started the second shorthanded after taking a penalty late in the first. Lions’ defensemen, Tyler Mort, recognized a screened Graham in net and whistled a shot through the defender and under the blocker for the go ahead goal.
The ref continued his active whistle for the remainder of the period. Matt Mistele was sent to the box for a second time later in the frame after a goal was called back for his presence in the crease. This time, however, the Rams managed to benefit with a man short. Aaron Armstrong flew down the far wing and faked a cross-crease pass before snapping home one of the nicest shots you will ever see at the MAC.
“To be honest, that’s not one where you’re looking to pick it,” said Armstrong about his goal. “You just kind of try and use your head, your eyes and try to fake the goalie. I was trying to look at Ricci on the far side and sell to the goalie that I was going to pass, and then you just try to beat him up high short side.”
The puck deflected off the top right corner of the net and bounced straight down to the ice. The bar-down beauty now has Armstrong at three shorthanded goals on the season and has him atop the OUA in that department. The goal brought some much needed life back for the Rams and tied the game at two with five minutes remaining in the second.
Less then a minute later, after the building irrupted with energy, the Lions countered with a deafening go-ahead goal. Scott Feser of the Lions beat Graham for his second goal of the season and gave the Lions a 3-2 lead to take into the final 20 minutes.
Trevor Petersen went on to open the third period scoring with his first of the game and his second of three points on the night. He then fed a well-touched saucer pass over a body to Milner, who one-timed his second goal and the Lions’ fifth of the contest. An empty netter off the stick of Kyle Campbell sealed the deal Thursday as the Lions scored three unanswered third period goals to cruise to a 6-2 victory over the Rams.
After the lopsided loss, Rams’ captain Michael Fine had words in the locker room for the rest of his teammates and echoed the need for better focus and preparation.
“We need to be better prepared. I didn’t think we came out, I mean our first couple shifts were all right, but it just seemed like we were off,” said Fine about the Rams’ start. “I just told the guys, its about preparation the night before, going into the game and what we do right before the game just to be better prepared.”
The same words flowed from Duco after the loss as well. Moving forward, the focus on better preparation off the ice should have a direct result in better execution on the ice.
“We let them know that we were very disappointed in the result today and whatever you did to prepare for this game, don’t do it again,” said Duco. “We need to be more focused, more prepared and that comes from us coaches too. We didn’t do a good enough job preparing them so its back to the drawing board, get organized and settle in here so we can be better Saturday night against U of T.”
On a positive note, the honoree night for Wise was a great success and much deserved. Wise spent 25 years with the York Lions where he won two OUA and two CIS championships but most recently spent the last 10 years as the head coach of the Rams before his retirement this off-season.
“It was great you know. He is a class act, a huge leader in this Ryerson community and he has done a lot to get this hockey program to where it is,” stated an ecstatic Duco when asked about the night. “It was a win-win for him because he coached York for 25 years and coached us for 10. He tried to stay unbiased. He even said that he wore a neutral tie that had a little red and a little blue in it. It was important that we honored him and sent him off in the right way.”
It’s apparent that Wise achieved a lasting impact as a mentor on Duco, but Wise’s former players as well had nothing but quality things to say about his return to the MAC Thursday.
“I don’t think there’s a better guy or a more deserving gentlemen that deserves something like (tonight),” said Armstrong. “You can tell tonight, that all though I’m sure he felt the appreciation, it’s not a common thing for him to celebrate it because he’s just kind of roll your shirt up and get to work kind of guy. I just have so much appreciation for him and the kind of guy that he is everyday.”
With the loss, the Rams fall to 5-2-1 on the season and currently sit one point back of the Lions in the OUA West division.
The Rams are 1-2-1 in their past four games and will look to get back into the win column against the Toronto Varsity Blues on Saturday. The game is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start at the MAC and will be streamed live to OUA.tv courtesy of Rams Live.