Alex Basso of the Ryerson Rams (Courtesy: Alex D’Addese)A successful U SPORTS hockey team is built on many things, including chemistry, good coaching, and execution, but all the best programs from across the country are all built from the same foundation; strong recruiting.
A number of programs such as StFX, Alberta, and McGill have had consistently great recruiting classes, but when it comes to OHLers, no other program has more on their roster than the 2016-17 Ryerson Rams.
The Ryerson Rams are having one of the best seasons in the history of their program. With a 15-4-1 record, they sit first in the OUA West. With eight games left in the schedule, Ryerson is poised to eclipse their program best 17 wins in a single season.
For those familiar with the OHL who find themselves glancing at a Ryerson roster sheet, one thing is very clear, the Ryerson Rams and Sarnia Sting have a great relationship. On Ryerson’s current roster, seven of their players are former members of the Sting. In the crease alone, the Rams are cycling three former Sting members in Charlie Graham, Taylor Dupuis, and Brodie Barrick.
Even going back to Troy Passingham’s days with Ryerson, the Rams have started a former Sarnia Sting goalie in 127 consecutive games. It’s not uncommon to see teams feed from specific leagues, but Ryerson’s usage of Sarnia’s recent overage classes is above the norm.
“It all started with Anthony Pototschnik (Sarnia Sting, 2007) back when I first got to Ryerson,” says Ryerson Director of Hockey Operations Doug Hollinsky of his relationship with the Sting. “Me being located in Windsor, Ont., it seemed natural to attack Windsor, London, and Sarnia. The Sting were the first major team that showed interest, and ever since they’ve been a major pipeline.”
Hollinsky also serves as Ryerson’s head scout, and plays a large role in recruiting the best major junior talent organizations have to offer.
These days, Ryerson University isn’t a tough sell. Located in the heart of Toronto, it’s reputation as a University continues to increase, and the renovation of Maple Leaf Gardens to Mattamy Athletic Centre makes for a facility better than most major junior teams play in. But convincing players to come to Ryerson University wasn’t always this easy.
“The first couple of years was building the program from scratch”, says Hollinsky. “We were trying to sell that you were going to be part of something special, immense amounts of ice time, and at the same time you’re going to get a great education.”
As Ryerson has grown as a school, so has their men’s hockey program. Just 12 years removed from a one win season, Ryerson has come a long way in the recruit department, and ultimately in the on-ice product. As a result, players like Alex Basso see Ryerson as a place to not only enjoy their post-secondary schooling, but seriously improve their game.
“The coaching staff here in my first two years, and now with Johnny [Duco] and Nathaniel [Brooks] has been great”, says Basso. “I think I’ve become more of a complete player, and it’s been a really good development process so far.”
Players like Basso are a large part of the reason Ryerson finds themselves on top of the OUA West. But quality players also tend to breed more quality recruits.
“When I went to camp with Boston, it was a little hit or miss”, says forward Matt Mistele. “My parents are both teachers, so school is something I take seriously. I met with Johnny [Duco] and his brother [Mike Duco], and found Ryerson is a great school, so really happy to be here.”
Mistele will go down as one of the biggest recruits Ryerson has ever landed, as his 125 career OHL goals make him the third highest scoring OHLer to ever play for an OUA hockey team. Part of Mistele’s decision to come to Ryerson was the opportunity to play with his cousin, Devon Paliani, another Sarnia Sting recruit.
Ryerson continues to search for top OHL talent to add to the 73 years of CHL experience already on their roster. But for Doug Hollinsky, he’s careful to ensure the players he brings in are coming into an environment that’s right for them.
“We look and see how these guys are going to progress in our system, and we want to see if they’re going to continue to develop and find those hidden gems.”
That’s the recipe that Ryerson has brought to their recruiting process, and it’s hard to argue with the results this season. Not only are the Rams one of the premiere destinations for OHLers today, but plan on being so for years to come.