By Jamie Neugebauer, Staff Writer
On Monday the Canadian Junior Hockey League and NHL Central Scouting released its Weekly Top 20 Tier II teams in the nation.
While the Rangers only received an honourable mention, appearing on the press release means that the boys in blue are finally getting credit as one of the top groups in Canada.
For North York head coach John Dean that is an honour to be cherished, but also taken with a grain of salt.
“At the end of the day it’s really nice for the guys to be recognized for all the hard work they have put in,” he said.
“Game in and game out, this team has worn the North York Ranger crest with pride and continued to battle their way up the standings. However, we definitely do not define ourselves by one week’s rankings, but instead by our body of work at the end of the season.
“We know that the only results that matter are the ones in the playoffs.”
The Rangers have taken points from all but two games since the beginning of December, a span of 17 contests. They boast the third and fourth highest scorers in the league, the highest goal-scoring defenceman and have scored the second most goals as a team thus far this year with 192 in 46 games (a clip of 4.2 goals-per-game).
As of Jan. 22, North York sits in first place in the South Division and second in the Southwest conference, eclipsing last season’s final point total by 12 to date, with nine more games remaining to be played.
Yet they have done all this while sustaining numerous injuries and dealing with the difficulty of bringing 13 players into the fold.
And it is that resilience despite heavy adversity that makes Dean more proud than all the other achievements.
“The guys have been through a lot this season,” he said.
“Every night they seem to learn something new, whether it be about adversity, compete level or situational play. I think this month the team has learned from past mistakes and transformed them into positives. The nice part about this group is that they really grow and learn well together and the adversity that this team has faced is going to pay off in spades down the road.”
An enormous part of helping Dean and company through the peaks and valleys of this remarkable season has been the absolutely tremendous quality of the midget call-ups from the North York Rangers’ Triple-A affiliates.
The close bond between the junior team and the major midget outfit, head coached by one of Dean’s assistants, Brent Hughes, has meant that the no less than 11 Rangers midgets getting junior experience this year have played with the same grit, determination and focus that Dean preaches to his charges.
It comes as little surprise that Hughes’ players have been strong additions, however, as five of them were all-stars this season, with one winning the midget all-star game Most Valuable Player.
“Coach Hughes has done an amazing job preparing those guys for the next level,” Dean said.
“Our philosophies are similar and as a result the kids seem to transition smoothly, a testament to both the player and their coach. I am excited about the way the North York organization has developed midget players into Junior A players for next season and it has proven to be an incredible relationship between the two teams this season.
“It is a real family here at North York.”
Heading into the home stretch of the regular season, the Rangers have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs in their sights. Space between first and sixth place in the conference is little to none, however, so the team must maintain focus in every contest the rest of the way.
Yet with two elite-level goaltenders, a defence-corps with a great blend of physicality, steadiness and sublime puck-moving ability, and a talented group of forwards that have all the diversity necessary to score in any type of game, the boys in blue are equipped with everything they need to go far in the playoffs.
With all that in place, Dean knows that the only thing can truly stop his team, is itself.
“Our goal from the beginning of the year has been to play and compete like champions consistently,” he said.
“I think we are getting close.”