By Jamie Neugebauer
Liam Kerins notched his second hat trick of the season and added a fourth for good measure as the North York Rangers overcame a tough middle period to crush the Hamilton Red Wings 7-2 on Sunday.
Gabriel Valenzuela also had the first four-point outing of his junior career while five different Rangers had multi-point contests as North York pulled four points ahead of Milton for third in the Southwest Conference.
Afterward, Rangers’ bench boss John Dean was even keel about his club’s performance against a team all-but eliminated from playoff contention.
“Every coach has the same battle to get kids to rise up for games that they don’t think are a priority,” Dean said, “but at the end of the day we have a bigger picture than the team we’re playing. Whether we are facing a first-place team or a last-place one we are trying to work on our systems and get set for the playoffs and that’s the bottom line.”
Kerins opened the scoring by jamming in a cross-crease feed from John Carpino at 1:22, starting a run of three straight North York power-play goals.
Zach Fung’s wrister beat a screened Mark Sinclair at 7:35 to make it 2-0 and then Valenzuela snapped one home just under three minutes later to make it three.
Kerins got his second on a deflection off of a Hamilton player at 13:27 for the fourth before the Red Wings finally got on the board by way of a Connor Bramwell backhand almost two minutes later.
Cole Poliziani cut the lead to 4-2 during a second period in which Hamilton dominated, but Tye Campbell banged in a rebound 6:37 into the third frame to put the game out of reach.
Two Kerins breakaway goals, one at 10:54 and one at 14:08 finished off the romp.
The line of Kerins, Valenzuela and Fung combined for 10 points on the contest.
“Yeah obviously Kerins is an awesome talent,” Dean said, “he can be as good as he wants to on any given night and we around here all know that when he decides to he can take over a game. He, along with his line mates, decided to do that today and it paid off big time.”
North York went 5-for-6 with the man advantage in the game, moving the Rangers up into second place in the league in power-play efficiency. Combined with the OJHL’s top penalty kill, North York now boasts the league’s best special teams.
Jason Pucciarelli made 26 saves for his 13th win of the season.
The Rangers are back in action Wednesday night when they host the Newmarket Hurricanes at the Herb, puck drops 8 p.m.
There are now seven games left in the regular season.