GLANBROOK 6, NIAGARA 2
GLANBROOK (Mar. 31) — It’s an annual sign of spring, like crocuses, robins and income taxes: the Glanbrook Rangers and the Grimsby Peach Kings will once again contend for the Bloomfield Division title.
The Peach Kings gained their spot in the duel for the crown with a 4-1 series victory over the Port Dover Sailors, while the Rangers punched their ticket to the final with a 6-2 triumph over the Niagara RiverHawks, also a 4-1 series result.
In the decisive game, Glanbrook got a pair of goals each from Sean Golebiowski and Justin Vermeulen to go with singles from Dallas Nadasdi and Cooper Hood, while netminder Tiago Rocha earned his fourth victory. Matthew Thurston and Keenan Bateman replied for Niagara.
All in all, it was a pretty dominant performance for the Rangers: they outscored the RiverHawks 22-11 and only once allowed them more than two goals in a game.
“I liked our complete games, and how we competed from start to finish,” said Rangers’ coach Andrew Tait. “We knew we had to keep our foot down when playing Niagara and I thought we did a good job at that.”
The only blip was a Game 3 loss in Niagara Falls when the Rangers were clearly off their rhythm, but still nearly pulled it off before coming out on the short end of a 2-1 score. Not bad, considering that the RiverHawks had the best record of all Bloomfield teams against Glanbrook during the regular season.
“One positive that I noticed during the Niagara series was how good we were when all four lines and and all six defenceman were playing together,” said Nadasdi. “Everybody was getting involved on the scoresheet and being impactful. Everybody was involved in the game every shift.”
And so now — for the seventh consecutive season — they’ll face Grimsby in the final. The Peach Kings hold the edge over that span with four wins, while Glanbrook took the honours in 2018; the 2020 encounter was deadlocked at two games apiece before Covid set in and forced cancellation of the playoffs.
The Rangers were the alpha-team over the course of the 2022-23 campaign, taking 11 of a possible 14 points from the Peach Kings (a 5-1-0-1 record), and scoring 30 times (a 4.29 goals per game pace) while allowing a scant 14. But the Rangers are taking nothing for granted.
“The regular season is behind us, so that means nothing going forward,” said Golebiowski. “We know Grimsby is going to come out hard and fast, so we just have to make sure we can match their intensity and to make the small adjustments that we need to will be a focus point for us.”
As Nadasdi noted, the Rangers are riding an offensive tidal wave coming of the semifinals. Vermeulen, a 14-goal scorer during the regular season, has already netted five goals to lead the team in that department, followed by four from Golebiowski, who lead the team and the division in points this year. A total of 16 Rangers have contributed at least one point (including Rocha).
Defensively, Glanbrook has effectively used their team speed and dogged forechecking to pre-empt scoring opportunities before they get started, and, in the defensive zone, working hard to keep threats to the perimeter and choke off access to the front of the net. All of this has been backed up by rock-solid goaltending by Rocha.
Of course, there have been vulnerabilities. The RiverHawks did a good job of getting under the Rangers’ skin, a tendency that will have to be addressed since it will already have an influence on the upcoming series with several suspensions still to run their course. Any further such sanctions could be disastrous against Grimsby. There’s a possibility that forward Jackson Gruber might soon be ready to return to the lineup. He had eight points in seven regular season games before being sidelined with an injury on Feb. 2.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” said Tait, “but our discipline needs to get A LOT better. This (Grimsby) isn’t a team you want to put on the power play all game, they will hurt you if that’s the case. And even as much as we had success against Grimsby this year, it all means nothing now, they are a well-coached, disciplined team that will give us a run for it. We knew we would see them this round, and we need to come ready to go.”
With that caution in mind, and even with the spectre of history looming in the background, the Rangers are feeling pretty good about their chances.
“Spirits are high, and we are definitely excited to be heading into the final,” said Golebiowski.
Added Nadasdi, “We know that (Niagara) was just the first step in our journey and we need to work hard at our upcoming practices and make sure that we are locked in for the next series.”