GLANBROOK (Apr. 2) — After two years of Covid-induced upheaval, it’s comforting to know that some things haven’t changed: such as the Glanbrook Rangers duelling the Grimsby Peach Kings for the South Bloomfield Division crown. The Rangers earned that right with a 5-3 win over the Dundas Blues to capture their semifinal series 4 games to 2 and set up a rematch with their perennial rivals.
“I’m expecting a great, hard-fought series,” said Rangers head coach Andrew Tait, who was an assistant coach when these two teams last battled for Bloomfield supremacy.
Cast your memory back to March 11, 2020. The Rangers had just defeated the Peach Kings 4-2 to even their final series at two games apiece … and then everything collapsed. Covid-19 hit the world with a vengeance and hockey went on hiatus for 18 months. But thankfully, all that’s changed and the Rangers and the Peach Kings are ready to go at it again for the fifth consecutive season.
While the Peach Kings made short work of the Niagara RiverHawks, winning their semifinal series 4 games to 1, the Rangers hard to work slightly harder to overcome the Blues. But an explosive opening helped power the Rangers to victory in Game 6. Christian Stevens started the onslaught off the opening faceoff with an unassisted goal, his second of the playoffs, just 11 seconds into the match.
“We were attempting to get the puck deep in their zone early,” explained Stevens. “Dundas broke up the play and tried to transition up the middle where I recovered the puck at their blueline and cut across the high slot for a shot far side. In my head, I knew how key a strong start is for us and I was just trying to spark the boys early with a shot on net. A bit of puck luck and a screen by a Blues defenceman had the momentum swinging our way early.”
Before the first period had drawn to a close, Ryan Burke added a pair of goals and Chase Johnson chipped in with another to stake the Rangers to a shocking 4-0 margin. Cooper Hood, back from sitting out Game 5 with a suspension, extended that lead to 5-0 with the only goal of the second period. Strong starts and energetic forechecking have been crucial factors in the Rangers’ success throughout the playoffs, and they were in full evidence in this contest.
“Our mindset hasn’t changed since the beginning of the playoffs,” said Stevens. “We stress the fact that hard work pays off. We’ve been a focused group from the start. Everyone has their roles and assignments and we checked them off across all four lines.”
With the lead and the game plan established, the Rangers circled the wagons around goaltender Ethan Cook and rode out a third period storm as the Blues, far from giving up, mounted a desperate bid to extend their season for another game. They outshot the Rangers 16-6 in the third stanza and clawed their way back with goals by Justin Thornhill, Josh Houston and John Michael Milinkovic. But it was just too much of a mountain to climb and the Rangers held on to notch their second playoff series win.
Cook earned his third post-season win in five outings with a 35-save effort.
“Over the course of these two playoff series, I believe we have really proved our depth across the board,” said Stevens. “All the little things are adding to our success right now. Our second-to-none goaltending tandem (Cook and Mitchell Robinson) has been phenomenal and gives our team the edge every night.”
So now it’s time to renew acquaintances with the Peach Kings, against whom the Rangers had a 3-1-0-1 record during the regular campaign, with three of the meetings decided in overtime. And their post-season encounter figures to be equally contentious.
“We grew a lot as a team throughout the two series and we know we have a massive challenge ahead of us,” said Tait. “We will get back to work in practice and carry the momentum into the next round.”
NOTES: Harrison Farrugia collected two assists for the Rangers in Game 6 against Dundas … Burke’s two goals gave him seven for the post-season, tied with Sean Golebiowski for the team lead. Burke tops the points table with 14 in 12 games … Glanbrook’s penalty-killing unit did sturdy work again, blanking the Blues on their three man advantages. The Rangers finished the series with a stunning 93.3 success rate. … The Rangers have seven holdovers from the 2020 series against the Peach Kings: Farrugia, Golebiowski, Robinson, Hood, Brennan Ireland, Daniel Vella and Matt Wright.