Sean Golebiowski watches his shot elude goalie Bryce Frechette in the Glanbrook Rangers' 5-2 win over the Niagara RiverHawks.



GLANBROOK (Mar. 29) — Talk about a transformation.  The Glanbrook Rangers team that took the ice in Game 4 of the Bloomfield Division semifinal bore little resemblance to the squad that lost Game 3.   It was as if the full moon was out, and it awakened the beast lurking under the surface.  And the outcome was a thorough ravaging as the Rangers rampaged to a 5-2 victory over the Niagara RiverHawks to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.  The Rangers can advance to the division final with a win in Game 5 (Friday, Mar. 31, 7:30 pm, Glanbrook Arena).

“We knew we didn’t play our game in Niagara,” said Rangers forward Ty Crombie.  “So, we made sure to come out hot back at home.  The home ice and the crowd plays a big part in it for sure.  When the fans are rowdy, it gets the team fired up.”

Incendiary might be a more apt description.  (In more ways than one, which we’ll get to later).

In this outing, unlike their legless effort of the night before, the Rangers hit the “on” switch from the outset and had the visitors confused and confounded with their high-speed forechecking and domineering defence.  And it didn’t take long to pay off, as Owen Johnston caught a pair of defenders flat-footed and with a burst of speed, forced Niagara’s Tristan Russell to take a holding penalty just 28 seconds after the opening faceoff.

That led to the opening marker when Tyler Smeda ventured in unnoticed from the point and converted a pass from Sean Golebiowski into a 1-0 lead at 2:08.   It continued in that vein throughout the first frame.  And while the RiverHawks did manage to stay close for a while, getting a couple of power-play goals from William Mahoney, sandwiched around a marker by Johnston, it was evident that the Rangers were playing on another level.

Proof of that was what proved to be the winning goal, which came at 19:31 of the first period.  It was pure speed.  The RiverHawks apparently hoped to escape the hurricane with the 2-2 deadlock intact, but the Rangers had other plans.   As the clock ran down, Justin Vermeulen outraced a pair of defenders deep into the Niagara zone, beat them to the puck and fed Ryan Burke in front who made no mistake in netting his third goal of the playoffs and putting Glanbrook up for good.

The Rangers absolutely owned the game from then on.   In the second period, they played like a herd of penned-up bulls eager to use the RiverHawks as their personal china shop.  Their relentless pursuit and pounding gave Niagara precious little time to think, let alone make plays, and it resulted in an 18-5 shots advantage and two more goals … although there could have been many more if not for the desperate play of Niagara goalie Bryce Frechette.

“We know they don’t like to be hit, so the smaller ice surface allows us to be more physical,” said Crombie, referring to the cozier confines of Glanbrook Arena as compared to Niagara’s more spacious home ice. “That puts pressure on their defence and forces turnovers.”

Golebiowski contributed his second goal of the playoffs on a breakaway at 2:03 of the middle stanza and Chase Johnson forced a turnover and swept in alone on Frechette for his first post-season tally at 18:07.  A sign of the Rangers’ ascendancy was a mid-period double minor to defender Dallas Nadasdi proved to be little more than a minor nuisance.

The MAJOR nuisance came in the last period.  One of the distasteful characteristics of this series has been an almost continuous torrent of back-and-forth nattering,  behind the play clutching and grabbing, furtive cheap shots and out-and-out dirty play, generally after the whistle.  It’s a depressingly common tactic, especially when one team can’t keep up with the other.  But it takes two to tangle and the Rangers were far too willing to engage.

So, with the game well out of reach, the latter half of the third period disintegrated into a quagmire of pushing and shoving and jabbering that had little bearing on the outcome, but possibly some dire consequences.   When the ice shavings settled, 10 players had been sent off with various majors, misconducts, game misconducts, etc., which will have a harsher impact on the Rangers as at least three players face suspensions:   defenceman Daniel Vella, and forwards Karter Doohan and Eric Bridgwater.   Defenceman Terry Mulholland has already served one game of a four-game suspension incurred in Game 3.

That’s a bitter lesson for a team that has legitimate championship aspirations.

“We talk about it game after game that we need to stop taking bad penalties,” said Crombie.  “We hope that tonight was a wake-up call for the team and we’re going to minimize the amount of penalties as much as we can.

“There’s nothing much we can do about the suspensions besides move forward and stick to our game plan. After the dominant win tonight and with the chance to close out the series, we know they’re going to come to play. That means the plan stays the same, be physical, stay out of the box and fire the puck on net.”

NOTES:  Minor hockey call-up Jacob Melko filled in on defence for the Rangers and collected an assist … The RiverHawks were assessed 55 minutes in penalties, while the Rangers had 41.  Paradoxically, Niagara ended up with eight power-plays to Glanbrook’s four … Tiago Rocha earned the victory in his fourth consecutive start in net for the Rangers.