TORONTO, ON – March Madness is OUA Western Conference hockey. In 2020, the eighth-seeded Western Mustangs went on to the OUA and U CUP semifinals, and in 2022, a 60-year curse ended in a game that could only be described as “electric chaos.”
With teams only playing within their divisions in 2021-22, it was difficult to gauge the stronger OUA West or Far West. However, two OUA West teams clashing in the semifinal, looking to book their spot in the Queen’s Cup and a ticket to the U SPORTS National Championships.
The Brock Badgers visit the Ryerson Rams on Wednesday night, and 49 Sports will have more on that matchup, but first, we take a look at how the two teams have succeeded so far in the 2022 OUA Playoffs.
The cardiac Rams
Nobody likes losing 3-1 in the final eight minutes. No hockey player or coach you ask will say that it’s a fun idea, but maybe Johnny Duco and the Ryerson Rams would. For a Rams team that had gone 60 years since winning the second round, it’s taken a crazy road to get to the OUA semifinal.
They left the comeback to the final five minutes before Elijah Roberts eliminated the Western Mustang in overtime in the first round. Then, in Round Two, the program’s kryptonite for 60 years, Joe Rupoli scored just his second goal in 143 competitive hockey games to send the Rams to the second round with another overtime win against Waterloo.
The second-round sequel against the Warriors was one that nobody asked for, but that game could prove the turning point for the Rams, who are in a must-win season with 14 players graduating.
“I think in the back of our heads, we knew we were going to come back,” Chris Playfair told Rams Athletics after the second-round win against Waterloo. “That’s just kinda ingrained in us now where we know that, no matter what happens, we stick together.”
While the first comeback was invigorating, the second one changes the outlook. Leading goalscorer Kyle Bollers scored Ryerson’s second goal, bursting out of his brief two-game drought, while Garett Forrest appeared calm in the crease after a shaky start against Western in Round 1.
Not only are players rounding back into form, but the Rams also exorcised demons that had haunted them since winning the OIAA in 1962, 60 years ago. So often, second seeds look at a semifinal as a championship for the bust, but for Ryerson, they’re playing with house money.
Facing the Brock Badgers, a familiar divisional opponent in the next round, the Rams have what it takes to advance but will be in tough against an ultra-physical Brock team that is riding a high after scoring eight goals against York in the quarterfinal.
The bruising Badgers
Few teams in the OUA have thrived in tough hockey like the Brock Badgers, one of the most rugged teams in U SPORTS. While they are not the fastest or most skilled and have had their share of injuries, the Badgers play with a physical edge that few can match.
Although they outplayed, outskated and outscored the York Lions with an 8-2 win in the second round, it wasn’t pretty. Those two teams have had the most physical battles in the OUA this season, even if their passes don’t always find a teammate. Nevertheless, the game against York and their clean first-round win, 5-2 against Laurier, pave the way to success for Brock.
The team has had a ‘we’re not pretty’ mentality over the last few years, and things are starting to click for them in the playoffs as they heat up at the right time.
Justin Brack and Owen Guy have led them offensively through the first two rounds with five pints each. Guy is the type of player built for playoff success, having a scoring touch with a physical edge. With nine points in 14 regular-season games, the first-year forward is rounding into top form in his first OUA playoffs.
At the same time, Jared Marino, Christian Girhiny and Jacob Roach offer speed and a scoring touch for the Badgers, who count on a physical game throughout their lineup.
After finishing third in the OUA West and dropping games to Toronto, York and Lakehead in the second half, the Badgers were not expected to make it this far in the playoffs. However, their style fits the post-season single-elimination games, and the experience playing in a demanding division all season is paying off.
Taking on the Ryerson Rams in the semifinal, the Badgers have a golden opportunity to get to the U CUP, against a beatable opponent who has not started games well in the playoffs. The two teams are very evenly matched in what is bound to be an extremely physical affair.
49 Sports will publish the preview for the upcoming game on Wednesday morning, with puckdrop in the OUA semifinal between Brock and Ryerson set for 6:00 pm ET in Toronto.