Pierre Alain preaches European-style lateral movement in his offence. (Kevin Campbell/Toronto Observer)

New Ryerson women’s hockey coach brings international philosophy

Rams bench boss Pierre Alain takes over from Lisa Haley

TORONTO – The people behind Ryerson hockey are ambitious.

Transforming the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens into a new home for university athletes takes gusto, and so does starting a women’s club in an already established 10-team Ontario University Athletics (OUA).

Coaching a brand new program in a top-heavy league where only two teams have won the OUA title in the past 10 years will take time, but the faces behind the third-year Ryerson women’s hockey program are more than a little qualified to get the job done.

Lisa Haley, the first coach in Rams women’s hockey history, found herself with an opportunity to become an assistant coach with Canada’s women’s hockey team for the 2013-14 season, including a stop in Sochi, Russia in February for a little tournament called the Olympic Games.

Replacing her for the year is a man who’s also no stranger to the international game.

Veteran takes over Rams

Pierre Alain, a 27-year coaching veteran, takes the reins for this very inexperienced group, and will aim to be giant killers come playoff time this upcoming March.

“We were in Calgary last year together with the national team and [Haley] was talking with the national program about being an assistant coach with the team next year, and I said I want to coach your team,” said Alain after Thursday’s 5-0 loss to the University of Toronto.

“She said ‘are you serious?’ and I said ‘I am serious’, so then I’ve been through the interviews and I’m here now.”

“Here” involves a group looking to improve upon the past two seasons, which saw the Rams combine for a  3-45-3 record.

But Alain isn’t one to dwell on the past.

The head coach of Canada’s under-22 women’s team, Alain won the gold medal at the Meco Cup in Fussen, Germany in January and he says there are some intangibles that never go away no matter the stage.

“Good working habits, work ethic, and compete. That’s what I’m bringing,” said Alain with more than a hint of a French accent.

“We have to compete.”

Alain wants to see the team play an east-west European style of offence.

He wants to see an improvement to the team’s play without the puck, and he wants to make sure his players know the importance of special teams, the latter on display Thursday morning in Varsity Arena as the Rams biggest strength against Toronto.

And the Rams will listen to him, in part because he’s done it before.

At the College de St. Jerome in the picturesque Mont Tremblant, Que., Alain coached Les Cheminots to five league titles in 10 seasons, sculpting a victor out of a program in its infancy.

“We lost games in St. Jerome also, sometimes by six or seven, especially in the beginning of our program we lost games like [Thursday’s],” said Alain.

“He’s more one-on-one based,” said first-year goaltending standout Alex Armstrong, who was brilliant in the season opener, allowing one goal on 32 shots in just two periods of play.

“If you have a question, he’ll answer it there. He’s always free to help,” said Armstrong, noting that wasn’t always a quality of her coaches in the past when it came to goaltending conundrums.

“It’s been great –  he picked up where Lisa left off,” said team captain and fifth-year Nella Brodett.

“He’s very passionate with the game and very dedicated with the team and I think that’s going to show in our future games.”