By Jamie Neugebauer
Liam Kerins showed his next-level skillset on Wednesday evening when his two goals helped North York cruise past Oakville by the score of 6-3.
The Caledon native paced the boys in blue to a huge divisional victory and a share of first place.
After the game, North York bench boss John Dean could not say enough about the 18-year-old forward.
“Kerins battled like a warrior all night,” he said.
“He put in one that Oakville would probably like back (and had another one earlier), but after that our team just doesn’t stop.”
The Rangers blew out to an early 3-0 lead, including a beautiful individual effort from Zachary Fung that saw the rookie steam down the left wing and whip an accurate backhand past the Oakville goaltender for the third goal.
Kyle Jenkins got one back on the power play from the much heralded Renouf twins at 13:19 of the first, and then Zach Berg’s long wrist-shot evaded Jacob Keogh at 6:51 of the second to pull the Blades to within one.
Yet the third period belonged to North York as goals from Chris Aitcheson and John Carpino sandwiched the weak wrister that evaded a surprised Oakville netminder Evan Buitenhuis.
Dean knew that the Blades love to create offence off the rush and felt that the Rangers could subsequently be successful playing a passive style in the neutral zone to force turnovers and counter-attack with speed.
It worked to a tee.
“I thought we were disciplined in our game plan,” he said outside the North York dressing room.
“I think today was tough for the guys because it was the first time we went out so passive, but the boys worked hard and I thought we definitely figured it out in the third period with 21 shots. It look that long, but they got it and so that adds another weapon to our game-plan arsenal.”
Fung, Ryan Kinsella and Taylor Pryce were tasked with shutting down Oakville’s Renouf line, while Aitcheson along with Kerins and Matthew Whittaker were charged with taking on a skilled line that features OHL-experienced Kris Bennett, Len Fabbri and Jimmy Cusan.
In both of these cases, they Rangers won the overall battle, something that they will need to do when the post-season comes.
“It feels nice,” Dean said.
“There was a terrific playoff mentality tonight and those guys down their big lines. I can’t ask for anymore from the whole group of 20 guys.”
Jacob Keogh was steady in the North York net with his second-straight 40-plus save performance.
The Rangers have another tough matchup on Saturday when they head to Georgetown to take on the high-powered Raiders. They are next at home on Sunday afternoon to battle the Milton IceHawks.