As charter members of the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey program now comprise the first graduating class, a pioneering spirit defines such an exceptional group of women. Among them is Melissa Wronzberg, whose consistency and durability made her a building block for the program, led by head coach Lisa Haley.
From her debut game, an October 7 contest on home ice against the York Lions, comprising an all-GTA matchup, Wronzberg immediately set a positive tone. Scoring a goal in the game, she would finish the Rams inaugural season third in scoring, accumulating a solid 13 points. Perhaps more impressive was her disciplined play, serving only eight penalty minutes in only 26 games.
Fast forward to the 2015-16 season, and Wronzberg’s legacy is without dispute. The first player in program history to reach the 60-point plateau, the Journalism major would graduate as Ryerson’s all-time leading scorer. While Wronzberg reflects on her record with tremendous achievement, she also looks at it with maturity, understanding that when it is surpassed, it shall likely signify an even greater era of Ryerson women’s hockey.
“Graduating as the all-time leading scorer is a pretty special accomplishment and something I am proud of, but it’s also a record I hope gets beat soon as the team improves and becomes more successful in the near future. There are some girls on the team now that are great players and I believe with a few great winning seasons they could definitely surpass my stats as the team becomes more successful.”
Throughout her remarkable run at Ryerson, there was a significant highlight that could not be measured in goals or points, wins or losses. Instead, it was one that extended over several seasons. When Maple Leaf Gardens officially closed in the summer of 2000, following the Toronto Rock capturing the National Lacrosse League title, there was an ominous feeling that one of Canada’s most treasured sports venues would turn into an abandoned crypt on Carleton Street, destined to be forgotten by a new generation.
Instead, a redeeming resurrection took place, starting with its status as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2007. Later renamed the Mattamy Athletic Centre, also housing a grocery store and training facilities, it would become home to Ryerson Rams athletics and one of the venues at the 2015 Pan American Games.
This long overdue return of hockey to the Gardens, in its current incarnation as the MAC, was made more special by the fact that women’s ice hockey was now being contested on its historic ice. For a player like Wronzberg, who grew up north of Toronto in Thornhill, the chance to actually grace the ice at such an iconic rink represents a new era for hockey, while providing her family an exceptional point of pride,
“Playing at Maple Leaf Gardens was amazing. It was definitely a factor in why I chose to come to Ryerson as I was born into a family of Leaf fans. Being able to tell people I play there is something I always brag about.
I usually tell people that we are spoiled with how amazing of a facility and arena we have at the old Gardens. And knowing the history that comes with it and players who played there before in the original gardens is something I think I always found myself thinking of over the four years I got to spend there.”
During Wronzberg’s career, she has managed to score many meaningful goals. Among them was a goal against the Chinese national women’s team in a 3-1 final on December 5, 2014. Perhaps none held as much meaning as the one that she scored in her final game.
After suffering a visceral senior night loss in overtime against Laurier, Wronzberg and fellow fifth year player Jessica Hartwick took to the road on February 20, 2016 against the Waterloo Warriors. Despite a visceral 2-1 loss, in which fifth year goaltender Rebecca Bouwhuis managed 27 saves, Wronzberg’s maturity shone through, still finding positives,
“Scoring a goal in my final game was pretty special. It was like going full circle because I also scored in my first ever game. Yet, obviously the end result of the game was not what we were hoping for but I guess it was a small positive I could take out of my last game and last season, especially with a season where we expected to do so much better than we did. It was also a little extra special just for me because of some significance and memories that that rink brings to me whenever we went back there.”
If one season stands out as the most memorable for Wronzberg, it must be the 2014-15 season. From the outset, she was recognized as an assistant captain for the third time in her career (leadership was definitely among the hallmarks in her career), an honor that she would share that season with the likes of Stephanie Chiste and Justine Glover, while blueliner Jessica Hartwick was bestowed the honor of captaincy.
Adding to this jubilation was the fact that Wronzberg established herself as one of the leading scorers in OUA conference play. Not only did she rank in the top 20 in points with 18, her 13 assists actually ranked fifth in the conference, testament to her strong playmaking abilities.
Such abilities would prove to be monumental as the Rams not only managed their first winning season, an elusive playoff berth followed, providing the program with an astonishing feeling of achievement. In the run to the playoffs, Wronzberg delivered on all accounts as she would log at least one point in four of the Rams final six wins of the season.
The last two wins of the Rams season would certainly serve as Wronzberg’s finest hour. Assembling a superlative three point effort in the third period of a February 7 match against Laurentian, highlighted by a goal at the 12:02 mark of the third, it was a performance that propelled the program to a convincing 5-1 final.
Five days later, Wronzberg would make her mark again as she achieved her own personal milestone. Along with Kayla Karbonik, the two would assist on Emma Rutherford’s game-winning goal against York, ending the season on a winning note while bringing Wronzberg’s career full-circle.
Of note, the Febraury 12, 2015 game against York represented Wronzberg’s 100th with the program. As Wronzberg reflects on such a landmark game, the race to their first-ever playoff berth involved powerful feelings of emotion as the squad had to wait on the results of other games first,
“Making the playoffs last season was unbelievable. We actually had a mini viewing party watching the two games that we had to wait on to see if we would clinch and we cheered pretty loud in that room when it was official.
To go from year one where we only won one game to having a winning record and making playoffs was so unbelievable for the entire team, both those of us who were left from the original team and everyone who has joined. Hopefully next season the girls can bring the team back there and be even more successful.”
Although Ryerson now represents the past for Wronzberg, she looks ahead with aspirations to continue her career in the Greater Toronto Area. Along with captain Jessica Hartwick, the two are among an impressive number of Canadian Interuniversity Sport alums that have declared for the 2016 CWHL Draft.
While the CWHL represents a harbinger of optimism, it could once again continue the theme of full circle. Of note, Wronzberg and Hartwick both played for the Brampton Jr. Thunder as teenagers. If the two were to become teammates in Brampton once again, but at the CWHL level, it would continue the intertwining of their careers. Although there is also a chance that the two could become opponents, with one of them possibly calling Kori Cheverie (who has also worked as a skating instructor at Ryerson) a teammate, both are eagerly looking forward to the idea of playing among the world’s finest, while helping add an exciting new chapter to Ryerson’s growing women’s hockey legacy,
“It would be pretty cool to continue playing together especially seeing as we played for Brampton in Junior. It would be fun to go through the experience as rookies with someone that I know so well and for so long.
Yet, at the same time I think both of us will be happy no matter where we end up getting drafted, whether together or not and of course we still have to crack the lineup of whichever team we get drafted to, which right now is my main goal in terms of hockey.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Faceoff by Stephen Kassim, Senior Night 2016 (L-R: Melissa Wronzberg (left), Paulena Jakarsezian, Jessica Hartwick) by Alex D’Addese