Forgive the Ryerson men’s hockey team if they start wishing for a standup comic and TV actor to run all their practices.
The Rams welcomed an unusual addition to their coaching staff recently — and then went on to win their next two games.
Canadian actor and comedian Gerry Dee, best known for his work on the CBC sitcom Mr. D, led the Rams through a 90-minute practice at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) earlier this month.
Dee is a longtime hockey fan, player and coach, having played as a child in Scarborough and then for the varsity team at St. Francis Xavier University.
Following his university career, Dee went on to teach physical education at De La Salle College. During that time, he also coached the Wexford Raiders of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). One of his players? A young Johnny Duco — current head coach of the Ryerson men’s hockey team.
Despite Dee’s burgeoning comedy career, he and Duco have kept in touch over the years. Looking back, Duco said Dee was a great coach, remembering him for his unique coaching techniques.
“He was the first coach I ever worked with that brought dangle sticks onto the ice, parachutes, resistance bands, a lot of the things you see everyone doing today,” said Duco. “He was a great coach and a great mentor for me as a young player.”
Considering Dee’s significant coaching history, one can assume he doesn’t like spending too much time away from the rink. So, he was thrilled to be back on the ice with high level university players.
“It was great,” he says. “I haven’t seen that level of hockey in a long time . . . there’s just so much talent out there and a lot of guys will go pro, so it’s fun to just offer some drills and get out of the way.”
The afternoon was a delight for the men’s players as well, who said they’ve been working hard this season to secure top spot in the OUA West.
After defeating Windsor for their fifth consecutive win the previous night, the Rams were happy to relax with a light practice on Friday. Team captain Alex Basso said opportunities like having Dee run the team through some drills encourages the guys to stay relaxed.
“It was good to have him out,” said Basso. “I think it encourages the guys to kind of be loose as well, which is something you don’t really get too often in school with all the stuff going on. So it was a lot of fun.”
And it certainly didn’t hurt the Rams’ performance. In its first two games after Dee led the practice, the team defeated the Lakehead University Thunderwolves 5-3 and 7-1.
The men return to the ice Thursday, playing crosstown rival University of Toronto at the MAC.
On the day he coached the men, Dee also took his (hockey coach) act to the women’s team. Coach Lisa Haley said the players were a bit surprised, but they all got to see what a great coach Dee is.
“The players and myself didn’t quite know what to expect, [but] it turns out he was ready to run a full-fledged practice and that’s exactly what he did,” said Haley. “It was great. Probably a little more serious than anyone expected but when I look at value for our group, it was just what the doctor ordered.
“He definitely had his game face on. Not his standup comedy game face, his hockey coach game face.”
While it was a fun day for all involved, Dee said a return to coaching isn’t imminent. He keeps pretty busy between his standup career and his TV show. But with his son starting hockey, he said nothing is off the table.
“I would imagine I’ll fall into it again at some point if [my son] takes to it,” he said. ”But no, right now I’m just still in the acting world, the comedy world. But I love [coaching]. I had a passion for it when I was younger. I miss it, but that’s as close as I’ll get to it for a while.”
Dee said he’ll try to make it to the MAC to catch a home game this season. But in the meantime, he said he left the practice with fond memories.
“It was a great memory for me and maybe they’ll have a laugh later and remember that ‘Gerry ran our practice once.’”
And fans of the team will see if the winning streak since Dee’s brief coaching stint continues this Thursday at the Mattamy Athletic Centre as the Rams take on the Varsity Blues. Puck drop is at 7:15 p.m.