TORONTO – It’s a scene many of these Ryerson Rams women play out in their minds but one that rarely comes to fruition.
And that’s a packed arena with 3,000 screaming hockey fans during a season opener that’ll stay with the Rams for a while.
The youngest program in the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) circuit opened their third season on the road and faced an opponent who had played in the 2013 Canadian Interuniversity Championship (CIS) tournament just six months earlier.
Despite what the scoreboard might exclaim, a 5-0 loss at the hands of their University of Toronto Varsity Blues rivals, the Rams, who won just two games last year, soaked in what it meant to play on this day.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience [for some of these players],” said Rams captain Nella Brodett.
“It was good to take in. It might have thrown us off a little bit,” she added.
That’s because it was ‘Downtown Showdown Hockey School Day’ at Toronto’s Varsity Arena, and students from surrounding elementary schools took in the day’s festivities.
They offered a boisterous atmosphere that had the old arena singing songs played during breaks in the action and they served as the team’s very own countdown clocks to end each period.
They also saw some goals.
Blues explode in 1st period
A four-goal first period saw the Blues explode with the packed energy of the arena and five different skaters found the back of the net for Toronto.
Kelly O’Hanlon, last year’s team goal leader opened this game up just over five minutes into the contest with a rebound off Rams’ starting netminder Cassandra McNichol.
O’Hanlon also notched an assist.
Three other Toronto players nabbed a goal and an assist, including Alie Brind’Amour-McClure, rookie Sonja Weidenfelder and Amanda Ricker.
Defenceman Marlie McLaughlin rounded out the scoring.
Four goals in just over 10 minutes and the Rams seemed to be skating in quicksand at the end of the first period.
But new interim head coach Pierre Alain made a change in goal for the second frame, creating a change in attitude.
Out was McNichol, who only made 10 saves on 14 shots, and in was first-year goalie Alex Armstong, who had never played an OUA minute in her life.
That didn’t seem to matter as Armstrong would go on to steal the show for the young audience and make an astounding 31 saves on 32 shots in the final two periods.
“Whenever you change the goalie, the second one that comes in needs to keep us calm,” said Alain after the game.
“And Army kept us in the game. We lost the second and third [cumulatively] 1-0, so that’s a very good building block for next game.”
The Rams did suffer a loss in Brodett as the fifth-year went down with an MCL strain in her right knee.
“Freak accident,” Brodett said. “I ran into a player and just kind of twaeked the MCL so hopefully I’ll be back for the home opener [on Saturday].”
And the Rams’ player of the game sported a little more gold than usual after the contest, as Armstrong received the golden helmet, given to the MVP of the day.
She’ll choose the next game’s star.
The positionally strong goaltender believes her strengths also lie in her bounce-back ability and communication.
“If something goes wrong I’m always positive on the ice,” Armstrong said.
“I talk a lot to the team. It was loud today, so it was hard to talk but I tried my best.”