The Ontario Junior Hockey League announced today that James Gray of the North York Rangers is the recipient of the league’s 2021-22 Top Goaltender award, presented annually to the netminder with lowest goals against average.
Gray posted a 1.96 GAA while playing in 36 games with North York this season. Selby Warren of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens was next best at 2.02. Zach Roy in Pickering had a 2.22 GAA. The award recipient had to play a minimum of 20 regular season games.
Gray, Warren and Christian Cicigoi of the Haliburton County Huskies all had a league-best 25 wins. Gray, Roy and Zach Dietz of the Burlington Cougars led the OJHL in save percentage, at .931.
It’s a big jump for Gray, who had a 3.65 GAA and .897 save percentage in 25 games during 2019-20, his only other season of junior hockey, also played with the Rangers.
“Going back to my first year, it was a big adjustment curve coming out of midget hockey,” the Toronto National U18 product told the OJHL. “I went through a lot of adversity. Our team struggled quite a bit during the regular season and I dealt with quite a few injuries. And there’s the pressure with scouts watching.
“For me coming into this year, it was finding that adjustment and getting comfortable with junior hockey. Although my stats weren’t so good my rookie year, I had a very strong end to that season and I carried that right into my training over the last two years, especially with my year off.” (The OJHL shut down during 2020-21 due to COVID-19).
Gray enlisted some high-end help in Pittsburgh Penguins goalie coach Andy Chiodo and former Toronto Maple Leafs fitness guru Matt Nichol during the pandemic pause.
“Andy was a big part in settling down my game and really refining it,” Gray said. “Taking on all of the strong aspects and cutting down my extra movement and extra desperation, making myself more calm and settled in the net. That’s really catered to being more consistent this year, consistently giving my team a chance to win.”
“On top of that, my mental game. I think I’ve matured a lot over the last two years and I’ve become much more even-keeled. It’s been a huge improvement for me finding that stable mental state in the way I approach and see every game.”
Gray, who had three shutouts during the regular season, added another yesterday as the Rangers opened the postseason by blanking St. Mike’s 3-0,
Gray will be honoured with the other OJHL award recipients at a ceremony before Game 1 of the OJHL Nutrafarms Championship Series in early May. The OJHL is announcing its 2021-22 award winners throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs.
This marks the second time in the last three OJHL seasons that a North York Ranger took home the award. Jett Alexander was the last one in 2019, when he earned this and MVP honours.