When selecting a candidate to help build the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey program, a remarkable choice was made in Lisa Haley. A highly accomplished player and coach, Haley employs great leadership and acumen as she provides guidance and growth for a budding program.
In only its second year of existence, the Toronto-based Ryerson Rams have struggled, but there have been many positives. One such positive is the emergence of players such as freshman Samantha Pui and sophomore Emily Pecchia as scoring leaders. In addition, freshman Brianna Tremblay has established herself as a hard-working goaltender with 261 saves this season.
Another positive is establishing a renovated Maple Leaf Gardens as its home rink. One of the most hallowed shrines in all of hockey, the magic of competing at Maple Leaf Gardens is not lost on Haley or her players.
“For me personally, it's been surreal. Every young kid of our generation grew up listening and watching the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada, and to think that I now coach in this building on a day-to-day basis is incredible.”
As Haley works tirelessly towards transforming the Rams into a national contender, the aura of Maple Leaf Gardens is a great point of pride for her team. “For the players on our team, they do know some of the history of this place, and they feel lucky to call it their home rink. They know this place is special, and they want to represent it with pride. They are also very excited about what the building now has to offer.”
Haley added, “Without a doubt, it is one of the top CIS facilities in the country. Our intention is make the most of this opportunity to build a program capable of winning a few banners of our own to hang from the domed rafters.”
In leading the Rams program, Haley has iced a team that has played valiantly.
During the first season of the program (2011-12), the squad had over a dozen freshmen. Although the squad only managed one win in that inaugural season, there was never a sign of quit in them.
“The biggest challenge is the inexperience of the team. When trying to establish a culture, it's much easier to have some veteran players to lead by example and show the younger players the way. In our case, 22 of our 23 players are in their first or second year, so it will take some time for us to establish our culture.”
Statistically, there are many signs for optimism.
The Rams are averaging a healthy 25 shots per game (which ranks 13th in the nation). Their power play opportunities are 11th in the nation, a key way to help the squad build confidence. Fourth-year player Janella Brodett once competed for the Lindenwood Lady Lions in the NCAA, making her a leader on a young team.
While the lack of experience has resulted in some tough losses, the team chemistry is a key factor in the program’s development. As the players grow together, so will their skills. “Because everyone is so new, there is no opportunity to learn from others' mistakes. This team needs to experience every possible high and low to gain its own experience before that knowledge can be passed along from senior players through to freshman players.”
Prior to joining the Ryerson Rams, Haley was an outstanding coach at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia. The native of Westville, Nova Scotia has very strong hockey roots in Atlantic Canada.
As the 2005 winner of the Hockey Nova Scotia Coach of the Year, Haley was also an accomplished player. She competed with Nova Scotia at the 1991 Canada Winter Games and played at the 1996 Esso Women’s Nationals. Her university hockey was played for the legendary Les Lawton at Concordia University in Montreal.
In 14 seasons behind the helm of the Saint Mary’s Huskies, she accumulated 118 wins, compared to only 52 losses and 11 ties. One of her biggest accomplishments was being named CIS Coach of the Year in 2003.
While she led the school to four conference titles, there is a particular moment that stands out as a great point of pride. “There were so many terrific memories at Saint Mary's. Of course the championship seasons are each special in their own way, but ironically, I believe the proudest moments for me actually came during that two-week period when the school had decided to terminate the program.”
Haley had assembled a remarkable career with St. Mary’s.
In seeing the support of the community, Haley truly saw the meaning of team spirit. “The groundswell of positive support that myself and my players received from people coast-to-coast was absolutely overwhelming. When I saw the thousands of people that came to support us at the rally, and the hundreds of letters and emails written to the President, it really hit home as to the impact our program had made in our community. I am very proud of that.”
Since 2003, Haley has been involved with Hockey Canada. Most recently, she was part of the National Women’s Team Winter Training Camp in January 2013. Said camp served as a talent evaluation in determining the roster for the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships being hosted in Ottawa, Ontario.
Of note, Haley served on the national team’s coaching staff for the IIHF Worlds in 2011 (silver) and 2012 (gold). After the 2012 Worlds, she served as head coach for the Under-22/Development Team that played in a three-game series vs. the United States in August 2012.
Having contributed to Hockey Canada in numerous coaching capacities, she has had the opportunity to coach elite players, and see many of their careers grow. “My history with Hockey Canada actually stretches back to 2003 with the U22 program. So I've had some great opportunities to see many of our best players come through the systems. And the relationships you make with those players and coaches are the kind that last for a lifetime.”
The players that Haley has coached at various levels of the national program are a venerable who’s who of Canadian women’s hockey, from living legends like Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette to young stars such as Meghan Agosta and Natalie Spooner.
“There are such incredible people involved in the female game in Canada, and I feel very lucky to have met and coached so many of them. No matter how many years have passed, when I run into a former player or colleague from one of those National Teams, we instantly jump back to whatever that event was that we shared and start rehashing the moments.”
Many golden moments have been part of Haley’s Team Canada experience.
She was the head coach of the Under-22 team in 2005-06 that claimed the 2006 Air Canada Cup. In 2007, she was on the coaching staff of the Four Nations Cup championship team.
One of her most historic wins was with the Canadian Under-18 squad. On a squad that featured Erin Ambrose, Christine Bestland, Jessica Campbell, Melodie Daoust, Jamie Lee Rattray and Jillian Saulnier, the team won Canada’s first ever gold medal at the 2010 IIHF Women’s World Under-18 Hockey Championships.
“Of course, I am no different than any other coach. I love to win, and there is no bigger stage in Canadian sports than hockey. So, being in those World Championship games, and witnessing the players celebrate and be rewarded for all of their hard-work is really rewarding. Yet that is not necessarily the most important part. Both the players and coaches know that these women will someday have to retire from the game they love and start their professional careers.”
“So, the most rewarding part of the job for me is not just helping those young women become better players, but in knowing I've played a part in helping them gain the life skills through hockey to be better people.”
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated.