TORONTO - An all hands on deck mentality powered the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team towards a sixth straight win as they averted a late push by the UOIT Ridgebacks en route to a 6-3 victory Saturday afternoon at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The Ridgebacks presented a level of physicality that has yet to be seen this season by the Rams, but nonetheless, the men in blue and gold managed to keep their composure for a 19th win on the campaign.
“We know every time we play them that they’re a physical team and they play that brand of hockey. We just tried to prepare ourselves of that coming in,” said Head Coach Johnny Duco following the gritty victory. “You know, we managed to battle and found a way to get it done. It was a great test for us heading into playoffs knowing that we can match up against those teams who play that tough brand of hockey.”
The Rams aren’t often known for their physicality but held up well against the aggressive Ridgebacks. It took a full group effort in order to fight through the adversity Saturday afternoon, in a game that was once again led by third year centre Aaron Armstrong.
With Rams’ captain Michael Fine sitting out for a well deserved maintenance day, it was Armstrong’s show for the taking. And, after a two goal performance in Friday night’s win over the Gaels, Armstrong proved that he wasn’t yet finished with the weekend, on way to a goal and two assists for a three point afternoon Saturday.
Vince Figliomeni’s sixth of the season got the Rams on the board first midway through the opening frame. Marcus Hinds fought off a defender before sending a perfect pass to the tape of Figliomeni’s stick, who deflected the game’s opening goal past the shoulder of Ridgebacks netminder, Brendan O’Neill.
A four-minute high sticking infraction by Erik Delaurentis, just minutes after the Rams opened the scoring, looked to pave the way for the Ridgebacks. However, the duo of Daniel Clairmont and Armstrong are always dangerous, even while down a man, and proved it once again with a shorthanded goal Saturday. Armstrong took the puck and drove down the nearside wall like he so often does, but couldn’t beat O’Niell’s sprawled out pad. Clairmont, on the other hand, had no problem finding the open cage and gave the Rams a 2-0 lead with the rebound marker.
An Armstrong deflected goal pushed the lead to 3-0 at 16:17 of the first and Delaurentis’ second of the year, thanks to a shot in tight, wrapped up the first period scoring as the Rams took a 4-0 lead to the locker room after 20-minutes.
The second period played out rather differently for both teams as the Ridgebacks began to find their grove. A mixture of brute force and speed, shift by shift, appeared to have taken its toll on the Rams in the second and allowed the Ridgebacks to win the period.
Malik Johnson was left alone in front and was given the opportunity for two whacks at the puck. The first whack was rightfully stopped by the outstretched pad of Rams starting goaltender Taylor Dupuis, but Johnson’s second attempt crossed the line as the Ridgebacks got on the board midway through the second.
“We got out to that 4-0 lead and we tried to emphasis keeping the pedal to the medal, but it’s human nature...you are going to let your foot off the gas a little bit,” said Duco regarding the second period. “But they did a good job at pushing back and give them credit for playing hard, getting pucks deep and playing physical. We were a little bit frustrated and got away from our gameplan, but we did a good job settling it back down in the third.”
They did indeed and after a stifling second period, the Rams returned with an impressive performance in the third in order to cement a crucial two-points.
John Carpino got off the schnide with his first goal in 16 games to open the third period scoring. Now 5-1, a pair of quick goals thanks to Nate Mitton’s third of the season and Danny Elser’s ninth of the campaign suddenly made things interesting for the Ridgebacks with the score 5-3.
But, a strong finish by Dupuis between the pipes and a late goal by Mitch Theoret, was all she wrote in this one as the Rams improved to 19-4-1 for a OUA West leading 39 points on the season.
The solid outing from Dupuis was a key factor in the win for the Rams as he finished the night with 33 saves on way to his eighth win of the season.
On the other end of the ice, Ridgebacks’ keeper O’Neill also put up an impressive performance in the losing effort, and the final score may have been even more one sided if it wasn’t for a number of incredible highlight reel saves sprinkled throughout his 24 save afternoon.
Special teams play was a major factor in the victory for the Rams who finished the night 1-3 on the powerplay. More importantly, the Rams were a perfect 6-6 while down a man, adding to what was a perfect 2-2 night the following evening against the Gaels. Special teams play performed in a way that the Rams put forth this weekend makes for one content coach.
“Great weekend. We sought out to beat two great hockey teams. Last night we played a good 60 minutes. Tonight, I think we played a good 30 to 35 minutes,” said Duco. “But, in the other down time, we were on the penalty kill a lot and we did a great job on the PK. We sought out for our special teams to get over 105% and we got there and it has really helped us win games.”
A 2-0 weekend where the Rams have outscored their opponents 10-3 has them feeling confident moving forward. The Gaels and the Ridgebacks are far from being labeled basement dwellers, but despite two physically demanding games, the Rams proved they can trade blow for blow.
“It was a great team effort. Obviously, last night was a little bit of a prettier win and tonight was more of a playoff style hockey game where it shows that we have the type of team that can play any style,” said Duco. “We can play a run and gun game where we put the puck in the net, and when it gets a little chippy, we aren’t going to shy away. We have a tough hockey team that can get the job done.”
The Rams return to OUA action next weekend as they host the Lakehead Thunderwolves Thursday night at the MAC before heading to Laurier to take on the Golden Hawks Saturday.