Halfway through their 2012-13 season, I give my thoughts on the Rams season thus far from watching up in the broadcast booth. This blog does not represent the views of Ryerson University or the Ryerson Rams.
by: Ryan McKenna
At the start of the 2012-13 season, the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team were coming into training camp with a confident swagger. After a complete roster turn around the year before where head coach Graham Wise added 17 new players, the team was able to clinch a playoff spot before being eliminated by the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes. The Patriotes ended up going on to the University Cup, which would have also given the Rams momentum seen as they nearly defeated them and in Game 1 of the series, they absolutely dominated the Patriotes.
When I talked to Rams defenceman Brian Birkhoff at the start of the year, he said the team had two goals going into the new season. The first one was to play as many games as they could at the Gardens, and that meant getting home-ice advantage for the playoffs. The second goal was to win every single home game.
Starting 2013, the chances of completing those goals are, well…long gone.
The team struggled out of the gate finding chemistry with some of the new recruits, such as RW Michael Fine and C Daniel Lombardi. Not only that, but the top line of captain Andrew Buck, Jason McDonough and assistant captain Greg Payne were not producing offensively as many predicted they would. The focus was that all the Rams scoring would come from that line, but when it faultered, like we saw at the start of the year, who was going to save the day?
Well, we saw flashes of a potential second scoring line, when Victor Terreri went on a hot streak in late October, or when Daniel Lombardi had a really good streak of games in November. We also saw flashes of brilliance from former Saginaw Spirit sniper Michael Fine, who has been a dish master for the Rams with eight assists.
But the big problem holding the Rams back, and it has been for the last number of years, has been the constant runs to the penalty box. If it’s not Greg Payne cross-checking people to the head, or Daniel Lombardi blowing a gasket every second game, then it’s always someone else that decides to take a stupid penalty. The Rams, with one game under their belt in 2013, have recorded 320 penalty minutes, which is average in the CIS, but their penalty killing has been horrendous, a mere 77.1%, which is the fourth worst percentage in the CIS.
Their goaltending situation is far from stable as well. They have no clear number one goaltender, or at least not one clear goalie that the coaching staff can decide on to put in nets. They started off with Troy Passingham who wasn’t very good last season (2011-12: 3.62 GAA and a .885 save percentage) and he hasn’t been consistent at all this season either. But then again, neither has Steve Gleeson, the team’s backup. Gleeson has been handed countless opportunities to take the starting reins, but without success, even though he has the best GAA at 3.03. Louie George, who some argue may be the best goalie of the three has even gotten two starts this semester, although losing both times.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there has certainly been some flashes of good for the Rams throughout the first half of the 2012-13 campaign. The Rams new home is at the corner of Church and Carlton Streets at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, now called the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, has drawn fairly good numbers at their home games. On the ice, Steve Taylor and Mitch Gallant have been having great seasons so far, teaming up with David Grant on the Rams fourth line. That line saw increased playing time near the end of November and they have been dynamic. A hard forcheck has lead to many scoring opportunities and pure frustration on the opposing defenders. I hope Wise keeps rolling with that line because they have been effective.
On the backend, it sometimes seems like Kent McPherson isn’t making an impact, but the closer you watch, the closer you realize he has been a rock back there for the Rams. Playing in all special teams situations, he has 11 points so far and is third on team scoring. Defensive partner Brian Birkhoff, a 2011-12 OUA East all-rookie, has been having a stellar year as well with three goals and six assists.
So how about them goals from the beginning of the season? Well, the home-ice advantage seems far-fetched at the moment. After a loss last night to the Nipissing Lakers, where the Lakers scored three unanswered in the third period, the Rams sit tied for eighth place with the Concordia Stingers at a record of 5-12. In order to get back near .500 hockey, they will need to beat the teams that they can beat. Teams such as the Queen’s Gaels, RMC Paladins and the Stingers are all must wins for the Rams, because with 12 games remaining, the road doesn’t get much easier from here.
Ryan McKenna is a writer and broadcaster for the Ryerson Rams Network. Watch Rams games live here: http://bit.ly/1032O2h