The Ryerson Rams announced on Monday morning that assistant coach Johnny Duco will take over as the 14th head coach in Ryerson men's hockey history, effective September 1st, on an interim-basis.
The Graham Wise era at Ryerson University recently came to a rest after 10 years, and Duco's promotion comes at a make-or-break time for a Ryerson program which saw an OUA semi-final game three for the first time in history. Although taking over on an interim-basis, Duco has plans to see this Ryerson team experience an even deeper run than they did last season. It leaves the lingering question to Ryerson fans and OUA hockey observers alike, how different will the Rams look under Johnny Duco?
"I don't think that there are going to be a ton of things that are different," says Duco. "But I think we need to practice at a higher level in order to compete at a higher level in games. So I'll really be looking early on for competitive spirit out of guys."
Duco already has three years under his belt as an assistant coach with Ryerson, so it's not as if he will be unfamiliar with the skill-sets of his players. However, Duco will be looking to tweak those in his lineup next season, and if anything changes from the Graham Wise days, it will be a stronger emphasis on the puck-possession game.
"At the end of the day, you have to have the puck," Duco says, "If you don't have the puck, you can't play offence, and if you don't play defence, you'll never get the puck. I want guys that are willing to take abuse, hold on to pucks down low, and make plays."
The possession numbers for the Rams aren't poor by OUA West standards, but their corsi placed them fifth out of the ten teams in the division last season. If the Rams want to continue to improve, they'll want to get their possession numbers closer to that of York and Windsor, the top two possession teams in the OUA West a season ago.
As far as recruiting goes, Duco has already played an integral part in brining players who fit his plan to make Ryerson a better team.
"We thought we needed to get a little bit faster," says Duco. "I think you saw that [speed] out of us in second semester, we had better team speed. But I still think there is an area of improvement for us to play a quicker pace of game."
That need has clearly been addressed this offseason, with Daniel Poliziani being considered one of the better skating defenders at Acadia, and both Josh Sterk and John Carpino drawing praise for their quick feet and top-end speed. Couple those players together with a team that features the skating ability of Alex Basso, Vince Figliomeni, Jamie Lewis, and Kyle Blaney among others, and you have a group with enough speed to finish a bag skate before you're able to walk up the stairs to the rink at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Although Duco carries his previous relationships with players to his head coaching position, he says that come training camp, the slate will be clean.
"It's a fresh start for everyone involved. I'm looking to put my mark on this team," says Duco. "I'm looking for highly competitive hockey players, who play a fast-paced game, and do whatever it takes to win."
The idea of a fresh start may come in handy for a few players looking to re-establish themselves on the team, but it's hard to imagine anyone will benefit more from it than Chris Marchese. After a sour end to the 2015-16 campaign, Chris Marchese will be back for a second chance at training camp with the Ryerson Rams under Johnny Duco.
"When I think of winning, I can see Chris Marchese on the ice in a big spot," claims Duco.
That's a confident statement coming from the new head coach, and it's that kind of confidence that could give Marchese the opportunity to be an integral part of the Rams this season, but it won't come easy.
"If [Marchese] wants to come in, work hard, and earn his spot like anyone else, that's the perfect example of a guy I have no problem giving a clean slate to," says Duco.
The roster is still shaping up as the final few recruit announcements will become public in the coming months, but regardless of who has yet to commit to Ryerson, Johnny Duco has the ability to give the Rams every chance they need to go further than they ever have before in program history. Perhaps summoning some of the magic the Ryerson men's basketball team had last year under their assistant-turned-head coach on an interim basis, Patrick Tatham, the Rams will prove history to be more cyclical than we think.
At this point, the biggest question marks should be associated with who will and will not make the cut at training camp in September. The Rams will kick off their exhibition schedule on September 12th, head-to-head against the Western Mustangs on home ice, and it's hard to imagine Ryerson's newest head coach won't be meticulously counting down the days until the puck drops at center ice.
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)