On Wednesday afternoon, the Rams made the official announcement that Johnny Duco would return to the bench as the full-time head coach of the Ryerson Rams, making him the official successor to Graham Wise.
The move comes as an expected decision to many, as the Rams under Duco experienced their best regular season success in program history, finishing on top of the OUA West with a 22-4-2 record. However, the Rams’ dreadful playoff track record persisted last season after being ousted in the second round by the Windsor Lancers.
With Ryerson’s head coaching position now solidified, Ryerson expects to close the deal on a number of top-end recruits out of junior. Ryerson has already added defenceman Greg DiTomaso from the St. Catharines Falcons for next season, but are still searching for both depth pieces, and game-breaking players. Adding to their forward unit will be a priority for Ryerson, who have a number of players in question for next season. But although the roster may undergo some tweaking, don’t expect much to change under Duco in 2017-18. The Rams will continue to go with what made them successful during the 16-17 regular season, but need to find a way to turn themselves into a better postseason team.
Duco believes one of the biggest keys for the Rams moving forward in terms of finding playoff success will be an emphasis on physical conditioning and health. Fitness has been an element that’s lacked for Ryerson in the past, and when it comes to playoff hockey, those weaknesses become easily magnified. The UNB Varsity Reds have proven to not only be one of the most successful teams in recent history, but one of the fittest in the country too. You can’t blame Duco for looking to borrow from the nation’s most successful university men’s hockey program.
When it comes to the staff surrounding Duco on the bench, there are still decisions to be made. The positions that were held by both Nathaniel Brooks and Kori Cheverie last season will be evaluated, and both will have to reapply in order to return to the Rams’ bench again next season. Coach Duco will be part of a panel that will determine the selection process for the future of the associate and assistant coach roles with the team moving forward.
Did Ryerson make the right decision? It’s always the big question when it comes to a new hire. After such dominance exemplified in the regular season last year, it might be easy to say yes. But no amount of regular season prosperity will ever usurp the playoff failures of the Ryerson Rams until they find a way to exorcise their postseason demons. But with those bygone times, comes great opportunity. Duco can etch his name into the annals of university hockey history should he find a way to take Ryerson where they’ve never been before.