GLANBROOK (Apr. 13) – The Glanbrook Rangers’ roller-coaster season came to an end as they dropped a 3-2 decision to Grimsby in Game 6 of the South Bloomfield Division Final, which gave the Peach Kings the division crown.
That brought down the curtain on a campaign that opened way back on Oct. 1 with so much relief that Covid might finally be behind us and even more eagerness to get back on the ice with a largely new cast of characters and a largely new outlook that we would never take hockey for granted again.
“I would just like to say that it was my pleasure this year to share the room with all the lads and an honour to come to the rink and share the ice with everyone,” said veteran defenceman Dallas Nadasdi. “Even though the season ended earlier than we would have liked, we overcame a lot with lots of new faces. We bonded and became a family and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
From the outset, the Rangers, under general manager John McDonald and the coaching staff of Andrew Tait, Kevin Miket and Stu Wright, were an unknown quantity. There were a host of new players, and nobody had really played much hockey at all for 18 months; certainly not the kind of organized, disciplined, system-driven game required to succeed in the PJHL.
And at first, it showed. The team struggled through the first 16 games, managing just six wins against nine losses (including three overtime losses) and one tie.
“This season was a strange one, I think everyone was just happy to be back around the guys, and happy to be playing hockey again,” said Tait. “We, like many other teams, had a challenge of getting enough players out to fill our roster. We had some key guys back from a few years ago, but really had some unknowns heading into the start of the year.
“We lost a few pieces early on, but also made some acquisitions to help build our team. Our leadership group did some great work by making the team a close tight-knit group.”
As familiarity grew, so did the team’s confidence and in the seven games leading up to the mid-season break, the Rangers were the top team in the Bloomfield Division, recording five wins with just two losses.
Then … Covid struck back and the season ground to a halt again.
“The season was tough for sure,” said goaltender Mitchell Robinson, the longest-serving Ranger. “It’s hard to build a team when Covid took so much time away from everyone.
“Every team is younger and with less experience than before, completely changing the way the game is played. But we battled through adversity – from injuries to guys we lost – and I am proud of the team that we became by the end of the year.”
Indeed, when, with a collective sigh of relief the season started again on Feb. 5, the Rangers were the class of crop and very nearly captured top spot in the Bloomfield Division.
“After the Covid mid-season break, we really rallied together and grew as a team at just the right time,” said Joel Wallace. “Although we were seen as underdogs, finishing third in the regular season, we played even better in playoffs and had a strong run.”
They powered their way through the first two playoff series – both of them six-game victories over the Hagersville Hawks and Dundas Blues – and set on to meet the Peach Kings in the Final. And for the first two games it seemed that destiny had an immutable seat on the Rangers’ bench.
But the fickle fortunes of hockey held otherwise and after a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 3, the momentum swung to the Peach Kings and the Rangers never recovered, losing the final four games of the series.
“The final series was a hard-fought battle and after Game 2, we just took our foot off the pedal,” said Wallace. “We played really well on specials teams and that is what kept us in the series; it just wasn’t enough in the end.”
Injuries played a definite role – second-leading scorer Ryan Burke was out of action for the entire series – as did other factors: “overconfidence,” suggested Nadasdi, “inability to capitalize” on opportunities, Robinson thought, but “at the end of the day, we just beat ourselves,” added Golebiowski, referring to a string of aggravating errors that the Rangers, when they were playing at their best, just didn’t make.
“The last series was a dogfight, for sure,” said Golebiowski. “What with the overtime game and every game being so close. It took a lot out of us, but we never gave up and we were always pushing.”
When all is said and done, despite the disappointment, there remains a feeling of gratitude, accomplishment and justified pride in bringing hockey and Ranger tradition back to life for the players, the staff and the team’s loyal legion of fans.
“I would just like to say thank you to everyone who made this year possible,” said Golebiowski, “from the little kids in the crowd that came and supported us, to the owners and the staff. None of this is possible without them.”
And Robinson, speaking for the group of graduating players, said: “We had a terrific group of guys this year, we brought a team of mostly strangers together and became a family that fought for each other. They gave me a very special last year and I wouldn’t have wanted to finish with any other group of guys.”
And now that another season has wrapped up, the hope remains that things are getting back to normal — at least what seems to be a “new” normal. One things seems certain, the tradition and dedication to Glanbrook Rangers hockey will endure.
“It’s never easy when you come up short of your goal,” said Tait. “I felt that we had one of, if not THE best team in our division. We grew a lot as a team throughout the year. Although we’ll lose some key guys to age, I feel that we have built a great foundation heading into next season where we can build off this year and carry it over to September.”