Rams shutout No. 5 ranked Gaels
TORONTO - A two goal performance from Aaron Armstrong and a perfect outing from netminder Charlie Graham gifted the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team a 4-0 win over the Queen's Gaels Friday night for a fifth consecutive victory.
After dropping back-to-back lopsided contests to the Concordia Stingers and UQTR Patriotes in their first games back from the break, the Rams have quickly moved on in sustaining yet another significant string of wins in the month of January.
The complete effort delivered against the Gaels in Friday night’s 4-0 victory helped boost the Rams’ OUA West leading record to 18-4-1. With 18 wins in the win column, the Rams have now surpassed what had been a program’s previous best 17 wins in a season, and although five games remain in the regular season, the 2016-17 campaign has officially become the most successful in Ryerson Rams men’s hockey regular season history with 18 wins.
The effort put forth by Rams’ goaltender Graham was a huge factor when it was all said and done Friday night. His 27 save shutout performance gives him three on the season and his third in his last five games played.
“With Charlie, I think he has just been really focused and laser sharp every single game that he has been in,” said Head Coach Johnny Duco following the win. “I thought he did a great job and the team executed our gameplan to a tee against them.”
Graham was counted on a handful of times throughout the bout and rose to the occasion every time he was tested. He was the backbone to the Rams’ success from start to finish and it might have ended differently if it wasn’t for a plethora of timely saves.
With solid play between the pipes, the Rams needed just a single goal in hindsight for the victory, but we all know that’s not how this team rolls. The Rams now have 34 goals over their last five games to give them an average of 6.80 GPG over that stretch. A big reason for such absurd offensive success has been the play of Rams’ centreman Armstrong, who once again put the team on his back with a two goal performance Friday night.
Armstrong opened the scoring midway through the first period after he buried a loose puck in front past a startled Gaels’ netminder in Jacob Brennan. Daniel Clairmont kicked off the play after blocking a shot that led to a contested breakaway chance. He failed to sneak the puck past Brennan’s pad and an incoming Mitch Theoret failed to beat Brennan’s desperate glove. After a miraculous save forced Brennan out of position, Armstrong pounced on the loose puck in front, and spun it through the gap for his 13th goal of the season and first of two on the night.
A glorious individual effort rewarded Armstrong with his second of the night late in the period. Armstrong put his shoulder down and drove down the nearside wall, before cutting to the net and potting it through the legs of Brennan. The goal came with just 36 seconds remaining in the first and sent the Rams to the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
The Gaels stormed out of the gate in the second and put the Rams on their heels with blazing speed. A relentless forecheck and defensive mindset created a number of opportunities off the rush, but with the absence of star forwards Slatter Doggett and Eric Ming, the Gaels simply didn’t have the ability to finish and just couldn’t crack the code to beat Graham. The Gaels finished the period with ten shots compared the Rams’ eight, but failed to muster up a goal in the scoreless second frame.
The Rams turned the tables in the third and shut things down defensively by allowing the Gaels just four shots in the period. A Josh Sterk marker and Matt Mistele empty netter with less than three minutes in the third sealed the deal for the Rams as they cruised to a 4-0 win over the Gaels.
“We tried to have a heavy emphasis on defence. Get to our spots defensively and make sure we were getting to our spots first, so that we could counter their dump ins all game long,” said Duco on the team’s gameplan coming in. “I thought the boys did a great job in doing that. That may have been the best game we have gotten from our D core. We were sound and managed the puck well, and when you manage the puck well, you manage the game. It was a great gritty effort.”
Armstrong's two goal night was his fourth multi-goal game on the season and extended his point streak to five consecutive games, in which he has five goals and seven assists for 12 points. He now sits tied with Rams’ captain Michael Fine atop the team lead in goals with 14 and second in team scoring with 30 points in 22 games. On most nights, it often looks as if he is a man amongst boys on the ice. He excels in every aspect of the game and is a gigantic contributor to the overall success of what is now an historic Rams season.
“He is amazing...the guy gets better every single game. He works at his game endlessly and is always the first and last guy on the ice,” said Duco regarding another big night for Armstrong. “He is such a pleasure to be around and such a great kid. He leads in such a positive manner for us and it’s great to have him.”
Armstrong wasn’t the only player to push their streak further to five games after Friday night. The line of Fine, Sterk, and Mistele all entered Friday with points in their last four, and although they cut it close, late third period goals from Sterk and Mistele kept the streak alive.
Fine’s assist in the first added to five goals and eight assists for 13 points in his last five, as well as a grand total of 32 points on the year. Mistele’s late marker boosted his totals to five goals and five assists for 10 points over the stretch. Sterk’s three point night with a goal and two assists gives him four goals and six assists for 10 points in his last five.
The Rams will look to continue their winning ways Saturday afternoon in a matinee event with the UOIT Ridgebacks as they gun for their 19th win of the season and their sixth in a row. The game is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. puck drop and is available live via OUA.tv.