Cooper Hood (18) spins and fires a shot past Niagara goalie Bryce Frechette to ignite a Ranger rally that ultimately fell short in a 5-4 OT loss.


GLANBROOK (Feb. 15) — For Batman, it’s the Joker.  For Harry Potter, it’s Lord Voldemort.  For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s, well, every team they face in the first round of the playoffs.  Everyone has their nemesis, and this year, for the Glanbrook Rangers, it’s the Niagara RiverHawks.

Of the five losses the Rangers have suffered this season (three in regulation, two in overtime), three of them have come at the hands of the RiverHawks;  the latest being an agonizing 5-4 overtime decision.  There’s just something about Niagara that has been a thorn in the Rangers’ side.

“They’re very disciplined, they play good systematic hockey,” said Rangers’ coach Andrew Tait.  “They’ve got our number, that’s for sure.”

For the sake of perspective, it’s important to bear in mind that the Rangers still have a winning record against Niagara with a 3-2-0-1 mark.   But still, as opponents go, the RiverHawks have clearly been the toughest for Glanbrook, which has pretty much run roughshod over the rest of the Bloomfield Division.

This latest tilt was a case in point.     There was a tortoise and hare character to the proceedings, as the RiverHawks streaked in front like the hare in the classic fable,  while the Rangers persisted in their pursuit, slowly but relentlessly gaining ground.   Pity they just couldn’t pull off the fairy-tale happily-ever-after ending.

Apart from the outcome, there was plenty to like about this encounter.  It was played with plenty of pace, with a sprinkling of solid hits but a minimum of nonsense, stellar goaltending at both ends and an abundance of quality scoring opportunities.   And drama … lots of drama.

After sailing through a scoreless first period, Austin Barath finally gave Niagara the edge at 10:09 of the second stanza.   Now, fast forward a measly 30 seconds and, boom, it’s 3-0 for the RiverHawks on goals by Trevor Snyder and Callum Harvey, a flurry that stung the Rangers like a cold slap in the face.

“That was a classic brain fart,” said Tait.  “We lost our focus.  We started running around, making bad puck moving decisions.  Instead of going up the boards with it, we tried to force it up the middle, and they were able to capitalize on it.”

So stunned were the Rangers, that Tait felt it prudent to call  a time out to settle things down and regroup.

“We just wanted to relax the guys,” he said.  “After something like that, it can be tough to regain your composure.  We just wanted to calm the boys down and get back to work.”

And so, the chase began in earnest.  The Rangers seemed to be back on an even keel and generated several excellent offensive thrusts until finally Cooper Hood was able to pierce Niagara goaltender Bryce Frechette’s armour with his 28th goal of the season at 13:10.   Then came one of those bizarre incidents that can often alter the course of an event.   With Ranger forwards Aiden Ferguson and Eric Taylor aggressively killing a penalty, Niagara defenceman  Quinn McRobbie swung deep in his own zone and fired what he intended to be a clearing pass around the rim of the boards.  But he misjudged his angle and his shot hit the side of the net and ricocheted off Frechette into the cage with just six seconds to go in the period.

Ferguson was judged to be the last Ranger to come in contact with the puck and so was awarded the goal, his first of the season, and the momentum had clearly swung in the Rangers’ favour.

“Anytime you put in a shorthanded goal, it gives you a spark,” said Tait.  “And when it’s a guy like Fergy who gets it, someone who doesn’t often get on the scoresheet, but works his butt off every shift … that really gives you a spark.”

And Ryan Burke turned that spark into a flame, scoring twice in the third period to bring the Rangers all the way back from the brink and leave them with a 4-3 lead with just under 10 minutes to go.  And it looked every bit like the Rangers might just pull off the miracle.   But, a Ranger boarding penalty gave the RiverHawks the opening they were looking for and Keenan Bateman dug the puck out of a scrum in the Glanbrook crease area to beat Jason Sviergula and knot the match up at 4-4.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Tait.  “We chip away, chip away to get back and even take the lead, and then we take penalties to let them back in.”

The overtime period had the same firewagon character as the previous three with breakaways at both ends and enormous saves by both goalies, until fate intervened once again.  On a RiverHawk rush, Ranger forward Justin Vermeulen lost an edge, or got his skate caught in a rut and went down, leaving Niagara’s Keenan Bateman with a clear path to the slot where he made no mistake and slipped a high shot past Sviergula for the climactic tally.

“All game we had good scoring chances,” said Tait.  “But it’s OT … there’s an unfortunate break, their guy walks in untouched, and makes a nice shot.”

NOTES:  This was the third overtime game for the Rangers.  They’ve won once and lost twice (Grimsby, Niagara) …  The single point earned nudged the Rangers a wee bit closer to the Bloomfield Division title.  They’re nine points up on Grimsby with five games remaining (the Peach Kings have six to go) … The Rangers will close out their season series with the RiverHawks on Family Day (Monday, Feb. 20, 4:30 pm, Glanbrook Arena).