Rangers forward Justin Vermeulen celebrates his game-winning goal as Glanbrook earned a 3-2 decision over the Niagara RiverHawks.


GLANBROOK (Mar. 22) — It’s a common trope in the playoffs:  one team returns to the fray after a long stretch of inactivity to face an opponent coming off a gruelling but emotionally exhilarating triumph.  Who has the competitive advantage?

That scenario was played out in Game 1 of the Bloomfield Division Semifinal as the rested and ready Glanbrook Rangers hosted the Niagara RiverHawks who, just two nights previously, had staged an audacious third period comeback to defeat the Dundas Blues and earn the right to face the Rangers.  And, at least in this instance, the decision went to the team that had the recess.

But only just.

Justin Vermeulen’s goal at 17:44 of the third period gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the series, it’s true.  But the debate will surely continue since both teams were dominant for long stretches and neither truly overwhelmed the other.

Here’s how it played out:  it really was two games in one.  In the first part, the Rangers set the pace with speed and daring on attack, forcing the RiverHawks to retreat and in the process, opening up a two-goal advantage.  Then the grinders took over, and the RiverHawks managed to slow the pace, frustrate the Rangers,  and (as the Blues had already learned to their dismay)  threaten to execute another game-winning rally.

“The game started out about the way we expected,” said Rangers’ coach Andrew Tait.  “We knew we had to work hard and start fast.  They had just come off a seven-game series and we wanted to take the game to them.”

And they did.   Ty Crombie’s shorthanded goal at 10:43 of the first period was followed by Ryan Burke’s marker at 15:08.  Both goals came from open shots from well out that seemed to handcuff Niagara goaltender Bryce Frechette and it appeared the Rangers were off and running.

So, what happened?

“Penalties,” said Tait.  “We became undisciplined and any time you start parading to the penalty box, chemistry goes out the window, you go back on your heels and they take the momentum away.”

Even the steadfast goaltending of netminder Tiago Rocha and a typically strong effort from their penalty-killing formations weren’t enough to hold off the resurgent RiverHawks as Hunter Willis, the leading goal-scorer in the PJHL playoffs so far, scored twice to even the match at 2-2.  Both goals, Willis’s 9th and 10th of the post-season, came on the power play.

“We played into their hands,” said Tait.  “Taking those penalties gave them the chance to hang around.”

But as dire as the circumstances might have appeared, the Rangers weren’t done yet.  As the period rolled towards overtime, the hosts got the break they were looking for when a poor clearing attempt by a Niagara defender was held in at the blueline by Glanbrook forward Cooper Hood.  Rather than make a hasty desperation play, Hood shrewdly stayed calm and hesitated,  searching for an opportunity.

“Hoodie grabbed it and I saw open ice,” said Vermeulen, who dashed in from the right wing towards the Niagara net.  “I got the pass and was not going to miss that opportunity.  From previous games, we knew that he (Frechette) had a good glove.  In practice, we’ve worked on going low blocker, that’s where I put it and it went in.”

NOTES:   Prior to the game, several Ranger players accepted awards for their efforts this season:   captain Sean Golebiowski received the Bloomfield MVP and top scorer trophies,  while goaltenders Rocha and Jason Sviergula were rewarded for having the best team goals-against average this season.  Sviergula also accepted the award for Bloomfield Player of the Month for March … the Rangers were 0-for-5 on the power play, while Niagara went 2-for-8.