COVID-19 creates roadblocks for Ridgebacks hockey

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks' forward Jake Brickenll scores in a game again the Windsor Lancers 6-3 at the Campus Ice Centre in Oshawa earlier this season. Photo credit: Ryan Hahn

COVID-19 did not end the season for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks men’s hockey team – but it is making scouting, recruiting and training difficult.

“In terms of recruiting, everything has kind of taken a backseat here in the last two weeks,” said Curtis Hodgins, head coach of the Ridgebacks.

Right before Hodgins had his recruiting season slowed by COVID-19, the Ridgebacks announced they had signed Matthew Barron from Yarmouth, N.S.

The 20-year-old forward will join the Ridgebacks in September adding to an offence Hodgins said needs to score more.

Barron played in the Maritime Hockey League (MHL) and set a career-high with 79 points last season.

As for other recruits, Hodgins said his staff had plans to watch some players down the stretch and into the playoffs in various junior hockey leagues, but all games have been cancelled.

According to Hodgins, Usports has prohibited any campus or face-to-face meetings with prospective players until April 15 which makes recruiting even more difficult.

“Everyone is in the same boat, however, and we will have to make do with phone calls, video chats and other forms of communication as we try to make final decisions on prospective recruits,” said Hodgins.

As for current players on the team, Hodgins said a majority have gone home to their families since many of them live across the country.

They are finishing their school year online as Ontario Tech has cancelled all in-person classes.

“Their off-season training is in flux for sure as there are no fitness gyms open these days, thus they are left to find other ways to stay on top of their fitness,” said Hodgins.

He recommends they go run outside or use any equipment they may have at home.

The 2019 Ridgebacks’ season ended just before the announcement by all major sports leagues postponing or cancelling the rest of their seasons to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Reflecting on the season and their time in the playoffs, Hodgins said he knew they were a very young team with 18 players in their first or second year.

Two players finished their final season with the Ridgebacks and are graduating this year – forward Alex Yuill and defencemen Kyle Locke.

“We figured there’d be an adjustment to the league and it might take us a little bit of time to get going,” said Hodgins of his young roster.

As the season went on, they began to find their footing, finishing with a strong road record of 7-5-2 . Improving on their sub-.500 home record of 6-7-1 is something Hodgins wants to work on going into next year.

“Since you only play 28 games you really got to take advantage of your home ice,” said Hodgins.

The Ridgebacks 13-12-3 record was good enough to get them in the playoffs with a first-round matchup against the 17-7-4 Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Hodgins said the opening game in the best-of-three series, a 2-1 overtime loss to the Gee-Gees on home ice at the Campus Ice Centre, was crucial as Ontario Tech would have only needed to win one of the remaining two games in Ottawa – which he had all the confidence in his players to do.

The series came down to the deciding Game 3 where the Ridgebacks were shut out 5-0 by the Gee-Gees.

“I think they really took the wind out of our sails and we had a lot of guys that played a lot of minutes the day before and it just wasn’t meant to be,” said Hodgins.

Hodgins said he was satisfied with the season, but cautioned next year his players can’t be complacent – they have to put the time in to get better.