GLANBROOK (Feb. 20) — Bloomfield Division title … done and dusted. Eric Taylor’s goal at 3:03 of overtime gave the Glanbrook Rangers a stirring 5-4 victory over the Niagara RiverHawks and clinched top spot in the division, with all the benefits that come along with it.
And what are those? Well, first off it’s certainly a psychological lift to accomplish something that has been one of the team’s goals since the outset of the season.
“Being able to clinch is amazing. It gives our team a great confidence boost,” said Rangers netminder Jason Sviergula. “And it also takes some pressure off of everyone in the room. We knocked off our first goal heading into the post-season which is always a good feeling.”
On a more practical level, the Rangers now have the option of taking a bye into the second round of the Bloomfield Division playoffs, earning a bit of a rest while compelling potential opponents to wear themselves down in preliminaries. (The decision on that has to be made by Friday, Feb. 24).
“To be in the position to have a chance at a first-round bye is definitely something we’ll consider,” said Rangers’ coach Andrew Tait. “It gives us time to get a little rest and heal some nagging injuries. We want to be around for a while in the playoffs and to have the chance to come in rested and healthy is something we most definitely want.
“We will need to turn up the intensity in practice as well, because you can’t match game intensity, especially playoff game intensity. That’s another animal.”
The nature of the Rangers’ advancement surely will contribute to their positive outlook: an exhilarating overtime victory over Niagara, a team that has been a thorn in their side all season and only five days ago stung the Rangers with a demoralizing overtime defeat of their own. In that contest, the Rangers battled back from a deficit only to falter in the extra session.
This time, it was a reversal of fortunes and it was Glanbrook’s turn to squander a lead, then deliver the knockout blow via Taylor’s clincher. After emerging from the first period with a 3-1 lead on goals by Sean Golebiowski, Cooper Hood and Daniel Vella, the Rangers slipped a bit in the second frame, but were still ahead 3-2. (Nick Duguid and Trevor Snyder had the Niagara goals).
But the RiverHawks, irksome as ever, clawed back in the third sandwiching goals by Duguid and Isaac MacDonald around a marker by Glanbrook’s Tyler Smeda to force the continuance.
“Niagara plays a hard-nosed game,” said Sviergula. “They are not the type of team to roll over and succumb to pressure. They are relentless on the puck and we’re always in for a battle against them. There are not many teams we can say that about in this division.”
But the Rangers, who outshot the visitors 43-32 overall, took command in the overtime, not allowing a shot while firing four of their own, culminating in Taylor’s winner.
“In overtime, it’s 3-on-3 so you just need to look for open ice and play with your teammates,” said Taylor, of his decisive tally. “I was able to get a little speed, and C.J. (Chase Johnson) did a great job in winning a battle to find me.”
The fact that it was Taylor who provided the winning strike in overtime illustrates the depth that has underpinned the Rangers’ climb to the top of the division this season. A speedy forward, known more for his aggressive forechecking and penalty-killing prowess than his scoring touch, Taylor might not have been expected even to get a chance in overtime.
“Tales has been a perfect role player for us all year,” said Tait. “Game in and game out, you know exactly what you are getting from him. It is great to see his hard work and effort pay off and he got rewarded. Again, it is just a case of our depth, and what we will need if we want to make a long run in the playoffs. Guys who aren’t normally seen on the stat sheet need to chip in and help out when given the chance to do so.”
So with the division crown wrapped up, the Rangers now have a few options available as they approach their last three games. Do they rest individuals who generally see more ice time? Sviergula immediately jumps to mind since he’s been carrying the load solo in net since Tiago Rocha was sidelined with an injury in January. The 17-year-old rookie has made 12 consecutive starts.
“With Rochs out like this for a prolonged amount of time, it has been a large physical and mental task,” said Sviergula. “Having to be ‘on’ all the time can really take a toll on the mind and body. I found that sticking to my routine, and positive self talk has really been the key to maximizing my play night in and night out.”
Tait acknowledged that the workload has been heavy on Sviergula and that a rest might be in order as part of his objectives over the remaining weeks of the campaign.
“We need to work on systems and tighten up in areas that will help us have long-term success,” he said. “Guys who need a break will have that opportunity and we’ll make sure we’re ready health-wise.”
One thing that won’t take a break, however, is the commitment and drive that has brought the Rangers to the pinnacle of the division and, they hope, beyond.
“It feels good clinching the division; it was a goal we set at the start of the year,” said Taylor. “Obviously, it’s not our end goal, we need to keep getting better in pursuit of that. We’ll approach the games we have left the same as we have all year. We still want to go out and play the right way and win games.”
NOTES: Golebiowksi hit the 30-goal mark with his first period tally. The Rangers’ captain is currently tied for sixth place in the PJHL scoring race with 63 points. Hood’s goal was his 29th. He’s in 14th place in the league scoring table … The victory was Sviergula’s 20th in 23 appearances. He now boasts a 20-1-0-1 record with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage … This was one game where the Rangers penalty-killing wasn’t as effective as usual. The RiverHawks scored three power-play goals on four opportunities, while the Rangers were 2-for-5 with the extra man.