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Playing hockey was never a question for Daniel Polizani, a fourth-year business management student and number 14 on the Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team.
“It was just in our genes to grow up and play hockey for a living,” says Polizani. Coming from a long line of professional hockey players, he says almost every single man in his family plays the sport, including his grandfather who briefly played for the Boston Bruins.
“Poliziani is a pretty well known name in Burlington, which is where I’m from. And when you think of that name, you think of hockey,” he says.
Hockey was always the path Polizani knew he would follow, but Ryerson University wasn’t always a part of his plan. Having begun his post-secondary career at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, he quickly realized that maybe playing out east wasn’t what he wanted after all.
After completing a year and a half at Acadia, Polizani began exploring other options, which led him to a meeting at Ryerson with the teams’ coaches and players.
“I loved the guys that I initially met… and of course the facilities, I mean how can you say no to the Maple Leaf Gardens,” he says.
Filip Vujadinovic, a fifth-year global management student says that like Polizani, hockey was initially his sport of choice as well.
“I wanted to be a hockey guy growing up. I always wanted to be a goalie. But my parents obviously didn’t have the money for that because they were refugees from Serbia,” he says.
“They asked me if I wanted to try basketball and ever since the first house league practice I kind of fell in love with it and just stuck to it.”
Now number 10 on the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team, Vujadinovic says his parents have always been very supportive of his basketball career, especially his father who formerly played professional volleyball in Serbia.
“He would drive me everywhere, didn’t matter how many hours. Just so I could get there to play basketball,” Vujadinovic says of his father.
Before graduating high school, Vujadinovic suffered an injury that resulted in surgery and a six month recovery period, costing him his basketball scholarships at various division one schools.
“If they didn’t want me coming back stronger because I was going through rehab, then I didn’t want to go to a school like that. Ryerson still showed me love, so I stayed,” he says.
“There was something different about Ryerson that I just fell in love with.”
For Christopher Aubin, a fifth-year sociology student, that ‘something different’ is the “homey feel” he gets from the school. “I love Ryerson and I’ll carry memories from this school with me the rest of my life,” he says.
Formerly a York University student, Aubin played in a baseball tournament against Ryerson during his first year and was drawn to the camaraderie and friendliness of Ryerson’s team.
The following year Aubin transferred to Ryerson and became a catcher on the men’s baseball team.
Although he sometimes wonders what his life would have looked like if he had pursued a baseball career in the U.S., Aubin says he’s happy he chose Ryerson.
“Schooling wise, I’m glad I came here. There’s no other school in the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) that I’d rather be at. Just the atmosphere here, the sports, the team, downtown Toronto, what’s not to love,” he says.
“My closest friends at Ryerson are on the ball team, especially the guys that I’ve been with for the last four years.”
Aside from lifelong friendships and experiences, Aubin says joining the men’s baseball team taught him important life skills. Although he sometimes found it challenging to balance school, baseball and work, he says it helped him learn how to prioritize his time.
“I can manage my schedules very well now. Now I’m working two jobs and it’s easy for me, it’s like nothing new,” he says.
Time management is something Katherine Follis, a fifth-year sport media student, still finds challenging, but found most difficult during the initial transition into first year.
“I know it’s very cliche, but I think the hardest part is just time managing everything because the difference between high school and university is very big, academically and athletically. Even just socially, you’re moving away from your home,” Follis says.
Having done competitive Irish dancing for a large part of her life, while also playing rep basketball, Follis says midway through high school she had to make a decision between the two.
Now number 15 on the Ryerson women’s basketball team, Follis says she didn’t have high expectations when beginning her post-secondary athletic career.
“I thought, ‘I’m a first year, I’m not going to play. I’m just here for the ride. I’m going to try and learn as much as I can and enjoy the experience.’ And I ended up fitting in very nicely with the team and was able to put out some solid minutes on the court,” she says.
“So just being able to get out there and experience and learn was one of my main goals in my first year.”
Thinking back to his first-year goals, Vujadinovic says, “I knew I wanted to be a pro but it wasn’t the goal at the time… I just wanted good statistics and to be recognized as a good player.”
Although it may not have been his original goal, Vujadinovic is excited to pursue his professional basketball career after graduation.
In the fall, Vujadinovic will begin playing in the newly established Canadian Elite Basketball League and is set to leave for Europe and begin training later this month.
“I’m excited. Basketball’s been my life. Travelling, missing friends, family – I’m used to it at this point,” he says.
Polizani says he is also considering pursuing hockey professionally, having signed with an agent in Denmark. Although the idea of playing in Europe is exciting, he says he feels very fortunate to have received an education and have a back-up plan.
Since the end of the season, Polizani says his biggest struggle has been creating a new routine for himself and discovering other hobbies and passions outside of hockey.
“You don’t realize how much time you have until your sports are done – it’s overwhelming at times,” he says.
With his newfound free time, Polizani says he has discovered a love for reading and community volunteer work, having clocked over 50 hours so far this year.
In addition to the amazing experiences and relationships Polizani was able to forge during his time at Ryerson, he says his biggest takeaway from playing on the hockey team was learning not to fear failure.
“We can lose however many games but wake up in the morning like it’s nothing. And I think that will take us further in life than we can see right now, because a lot of people don’t get to face adversity and failure as much as we do. So that’s something that I’ve looked back on and reflected on and it’s made me really appreciative of the sport,” he says.
With the baseball season having ended, Aubin also found he had much more free time to pursue other interests, which is why he became a member of Ryerson’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) group.
ASB conducts humanitarian trips overseas building homes for communities in need, and Aubin is set to depart for India this May. After graduation, he plans to spend his time travelling and continuing to give back to the community, but says he will definitely return to baseball and most likely become a coach.
“Once I’m out of it for a bit, I’m sure I’m going to be itching to get back into it,” he says.
Initially Follis didn’t believe that she would ever want to continue to play basketball after graduation, but says, “After it being such a big part of my life I’m going to continue with the sport. Whether it’s being a player, being a coach or working in an athletic department and then definitely just going to a women’s league, [it’s] just being able to bring out the shoes again.”
From the very beginning of her Ryerson career, Follis knew that basketball would always come second to school.
“I think especially in the Canadian world, or even just the female world, I’m not going to be able to make a living out of becoming an athlete. I may be able to go play pro for a couple years and make a low salary, but I’m not going to be able to support myself financially from that,” she says.
“So just knowing that what I’m going to be doing 10 or 15 years down the road is not going to be playing, I knew that I had to focus primarily on my studies.”
After graduation, Follis will pursue a Masters Degree in sports management at the University of Ottawa. Although she is excited to continue her education and move to a new city, she says no longer being a Ryerson Ram will take some getting used to.
“Not being able to play with the Ryerson girls anymore is going to be an adjustment. Because for the last five years, for a quarter of my life basically I’ve been a Ryerson athlete.”