WOLFVILLE, NS – The Rams did it. Appearing in their first-ever U CUP tournament, they took down the UNB Reds, winners of the last three of four championships.
There were doubts heading into their matchup against the accomplished program out of Fredericton. Whatever those doubts were, they erased it 17 seconds in en route to a 2-1 win in Nova Scotia.
Goals early in the first two periods were all the Rams needed, but that’s no discount to Garett Forrest’s 36 save effort. Standing strong all game, Forrest settled into the rhythm early despite UNB chants raining down on him.
“I’m 24 years old, so I try to play every game like it’s my last,” Forrest said. “I use that as inspiration.”
Even before Forrest faced a shot, it was a dream start for Ryerson.
17 seconds in, David Miller dumped the puck behind the UNB net before it bounced off the boards, right to Kevin Gursoy’s stick, who one-timed a shot past UNB’s Rylan Parenteau.
The Rams didn’t sit back after that. Their wide-open, fast forechecking kept UNB from generating anything meaningful early on. Even on a Reds power play, Ryerson tested on Parenteau.
“If you look at the playoffs we had, we found ourselves in some pretty big holes we had to dig ourselves out of,” said coach Johnny Duco of the team’s need to start its nationals on the right foot. “It’s been crucial that we get off to a fast start and aren’t chasing games, knowing that’s not a recipe for success.”
UNB got some zone time thanks to a pair of man advantages, but Ryerson maintained their structure, throwing the body or being quicker overall.
UNB coach Gardiner MacDougall said the quick start from Ryerson took time to recover from.
“You have to have the resilience in these games, which are best-of-ones,” he said. “We didn’t score until the third, so it was a big difference-maker for our group.
“We’re a team that’s thrived on winning one-goal games throughout the season. But today is a heart wrencher for the program.”
Finishing their first power play early in the second, Dom Commisso lost the puck going one-on-one on a Reds penalty killer. The puck slid back to Commisso, who made no mistake going top shelf on Parenteau to double the lead.
While UNB picked up the pace early in the second, Forrest’s play in Ryerson’s nearly gave them fits. Several blocks and takeaways impeded any UNB progress, despuiBut in all that time in the Rams end since the 10-minute mark, UNB registered just five shots on net. And that’s along with the quality chances they struggled to generate all afternoon.
UNB’s first goal seemed to come out of nowhere, but it was desperately needed. A Ryan Roth pass found Sam Dove-McFalls near the net, whose deflection evaded Forrest and cut the Rams lead in half. That lifted a weight off UNB’s back, establishing a flow in the offensive zone and bringing the fans, who made the trip from New Brunswick, back into it.
“It feels like two or three seasons jammed into one,” Dove-McFalls said. “We stuck together, and after Christmas, the guys became even closer. I’m really proud of all the effort from the boys.”
But even with the Reds pressure, it was Forrest’s time to shine. He tracked UNB’s setups through crowded net fronts and overcame the Reds’ noisy, fan-driven atmosphere to hold on.
“I did best at staying composed. I know the boys kind of feed off that,” Forrest said. “Being calm in there, making the saves and covering all the rebounds, I think they can feed off that.”
Playing with swagger
For the Rams, a program that had not advanced past the OUA’s second round for 60 years, being at the U CUP, is already playing with house money. But, brimming with confidence and swagger, they played a fast brand of hockey and knocked off the country’s second-ranked team, a task not many teams are capable of.
Moving on to face either the Queen’s Cup Champion UQTR Patriotes or UBC Thunderbirds, this Ryerson group has every reason to believe that they can make the U CUP final and beat one of them StFX or Alberta.