TORONTO - A 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Windsor Lancers eliminated the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team from Queen’s Cup contention, and delivered a bitter end to what was a fruitful and historic regular season for the program.
After the Lancers stole game one at home by a final of 4-2, the OUA West #1 seeded Rams found themselves on the ropes amidst a game two on Saturday. And with a gritty and merciless work ethic, the Lancers pulled off what many thought would never happen, a two games to none sweep of the Rams in order to advance to the OUA West Finals against the York Lions.
“I think we got outworked. We had guys taking shortcuts thinking that was the way to start offense. It was disappointing to see us get outworked out there for the majority of the game and that’s the case in all five playoff games,” said Rams’ head coach Johnny Duco following the season ending loss. “We faced two, gritty, hardworking teams that were ready for us, and thought that if they outworked us they had a chance and that’s what happened.”
The Rams were pushed to the brink by a defensively structured Waterloo Warriors in round one, but advanced with a 2-1 series win thanks to a do-or-die game three victory.
“With a young team, I think we had some guys that under estimated how good some of these teams can elevate their game to, and I don’t know if we elevated our game,” said Duco. “We stayed pretty much status quo when we needed some guys to step up.”
Secondary scoring was hard to come by for the Rams in post-season play. The line of Michael Fine, Matt Mistele, and Josh Sterk combined for 10 of the Rams’ 12 goals in the post-season. A stat like that is either a huge testament to the success of the line, or lack thereof from the other three units’ contributions.
The Rams’ offense was again stifled Saturday night and much to do with the stellar play from Lancers’ netminder, Blake Richard. Richard stole the show for the Lancers in round one against the Laurier Golden Hawks and was once again virtually unbeatable in round two against the Rams. He made 44-saves in their 4-2 game one victory, and stood on his head Saturday night en route to a 32-save series clinching game two.
Both Richard and the Rams’ Charlie Graham were exceptional Saturday and made a number of key stops throughout. Graham stopped 23 of 25 in the loss and came up huge a number of times for the Rams. After a scoreless opening twenty-minutes Saturday, it appeared that we were in store for a goalie duel in game two.
The Rams finally got on the board in the second thanks to a Mistele deflection in front. Alex Leader threw a point shot on net, which was deflected by Mistele up and over the shoulder of Richard for the games opening goal.
Both teams traded chances throughout the period with continuous back-and-forth play. The Lancers finally drew even thanks to a deflection of their own off the stick of Justice Dundas. Dundas’ first of the post-season came with just over two-minutes left in the second and sent the Rams and Lancers to the third knotted up at 1-1.
Just a minute into the period, Mike Christou was fed a pass in front and whacked home the go-ahead goal past Graham. Christou, who didn’t register a single goal all season, picked the perfect time for his first.
The Rams pressed in search for the game's tying goal the rest of the period. And after a total of four posts hit, a number of close calls, and plethora of unexecuted opportunities, the Rams were unable to score, something they often did in bunches throughout the course of the regular season.
Christou pulled the curtains across the Rams’ season with a late empty netter as the Lancers advanced to the third round and eliminated the Rams from the OUA playoffs with a 3-1 win for the 2-0 sweep.
“Tough…it’s a tough way to go out. The guys don’t feel good in there and it is one of those things you have to learn from, that’s the only thing you can do,” said Fine, the Rams captain and fifth-year forward. “It was a great experience and a great regular season. But I think everybody knows the playoffs are a different beast. You have to step your game up and need everybody to contribute, and it’s tough to say right now, right after the game how I feel, but I’m still proud of every single one of those guys in there.”
With the loss still fresh, it’s hard for these Rams to see Saturday night’s loss as a lesson, but after dominating the regular season with the programs most successful season, the second round exit is a rather large slice of humble pie. They’re a young, talented and highly skilled team that has a bright future. Even if that future is a little hard to see through the disappointment of Saturday.
“Right now we’re putting out a good game on the ice and these guys will do it for the years to come,” said Fine. “This was the first step. We wanted to go a lot further then we did, but with that being said, this was the first step and it’s part of the process and these guys will take over. These guys have a good group coming back next year and I’m pretty confident that they will learn from this.”
With the season now at an end, so marks the end of an era of Fine and Daniel Clairmont's time with the Rams. Clairmont was a lethal scorer for the Rams throughout his career and hit double-digit goal totals in all three of his years at Ryerson. He saved his best hockey for last after scoring a career high 13-goals and 12-assists for a career best 25-points in just 19 games this season. His career comes to an end with 34-goals and 32-assists for 66-points in 72 games.
Fine put his blood, sweat and tears into the program and helped lead the Rams to previously uncharted waters. He is one of the greatest Rams to ever dawn the Ryerson crest, and after becoming the all-time assists and scoring leader this season, he has rightfully earned his spot in program history as an all-time great. His 49-goals and 83 assists for 132-points in just 124 games does all the talking.
“A lot of good memories and a lot of fun times in the dressing room, you know, being a part of fun games, high-scoring games, tight games, just everything really. Battling for the guys in the room, that is something I love to do, I love to go hard for the team and my teammates,” said Fine when reminiscing on his past five years at Ryerson. “My coaching staff that have helped me become into the guy I am today. They helped me a lot and I’m going to miss it here. This is one of the best places in (USports), if not the best, so I’m going to miss it here. But, once a Ram always a Ram, so I’m an alumni now and ill be checking in on these guys and making sure that they are getting it done.”