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The AQ’s Matt Tidcombe sat down with men’s hockey head coach Troy Ryan to talk about his year at STU.
Overall, how did you find your first season in charge?
I think this year’s been interesting. I was hired very late, came into Fredericton and really by that time…all other teams had pretty much done its recruiting, so we scrambled to try and find some recruits who were looking to play some university hockey. I was very happy with the recruits I was able to bring in. if you watched a lot of our games you’d notice that a lot of our top line players were all first years like Steve Sanza, Bonneau, Poulin and probably three of our top-five scorers were first-year guys. And even depth-wise, role-wise, guys like John MacDonald and Robert Zandbeek were great guys just to come in and fill a role on the third or fourth line. So very happy, under the circumstances, how we were able to recruit. Other things though, I think we completely increased our role in the community, we did a lot of community involvement stuff like school visits, minor hockey, all of those sorts of things. Like food bank drives, Run for the Cure, Terry Fox Run and I think that’s important, using our stage to connect with the community or connect with youths or connect corporately. All those little things that build a program besides wins and losses. Having said all that, we didn’t win enough games this year, but I think [that] comes when you build your program bringing proper recruits in. The future looks good.
What did you enjoy the most personally?
I enjoyed the level probably most. The AUS hockey is probably the best hockey in Canada. I’ve watched a lot of junior A hockey, I’ve watched a lot of major junior hockey and I would take the hockey the AUS provides over anything, so just being involved in that league. I’ve also enjoyed the little changes I’ve been able to make here, maybe in the atmosphere on a daily basis, stuff that the average people may not see, but the players do.
What was the surprise of the year for you?
The biggest surprise for me was that we were able to survive the season with such a short bench. I just didn’t want recruit an average player just to fill a roster spot and then be stuck with him for four or five years. So I gambled a bit and said, “Let’s just go with our 12 forwards, six D and a couple goalies and hope for the best.” We did have some injury trouble. We lost Matt Eagles [and] we had Van Laren suspended for eight games, but guys just seemed to battle through. But our lack of depth is why we lost so many of those close games.
What needs to improve the most for next season?
Powerplay, without a doubt. We lost over 10 games by one goal and in three quarters of them we never scored a powerplay goal. Everyone tells me this is a recruiting league and a special teams league so we have to do a better job at recruiting and bringing in quality players and if you bring in quality players, you improve your powerplay. We didn’t really have powerplay units this season. Like, if I loaded up one line we would be so bad the next shift. You live and die by it, but it is what it is so I didn’t get too stressed about it.
How will the new arena help the men’s hockey team?
I think it will be good, but it just doesn’t always correlate with championships or success…What it does do is put us back on a level playing field. You know, our players, they’re excited about it, but it’s not the be all end all to them. They grew to like the LBR, they enjoyed their time there…but I think what will happen in the future. It gives us a nice clean slate to kind of rebrand a lot of things. Bigger than anything, it gives us an opportunity to tap more into corporately and have more events. We have an opportunity to just brand the facility…bring in money corporately [and] host events for our alumni a little better than we were able to do at the LBR, so I think it’s going to be good for our program.
Do you think this team could contend for a playoff spot next season?
We better, yeah! You know, I think at times this year we potentially could have. The level of difference between our team and some of the other teams was too great. The one thing people don’t see is that we can make all these changes we want, but so are the other schools. Right now, the teams that are ahead of us, like St. FX, they aren’t going to just lay over and let what happened to them this year happen. They’re going to improve. Dalhousie is going to improve. So I guess it depends on what rate they improve at. I want to make playoffs, but next year I think it’s very important to make sure we find a way to make it into the playoffs because the bottom line is, the campus…the community, aren’t going to accept this much longer. But this is a three-to-five year process. If we’re unable to make playoffs next year, it’s not the end of the world to me. But everything we’re doing, that’s our priority. Our first step is to make playoffs, our next step is to get into the top four in this league and from the day I started, I think both are very possible in that five-year plan.
Please note some answers were shortened and not all questions asked are reported here. Compiled by Matt Tidcombe.