By Jake Howorth
The North York Rangers are off to their best start in recent memory. Thanks to their 3-0 victory over the St.Michaels Buzzers, the team holds a 10-3-0-1 record and are currently riding a league-high six-game winning streak. One of those victories came against the No.10 team in the CJHL in the Toronto Patriots. Their efforts have been recognize by the CJHL in their most recent ranking from coast-to-coast, giving the red and white a honourable mention.
When one attempts to pin point the one reason why the Rangers are experiencing this early success is quit difficult, because it comes down to numerous factors. Their roster has the depth, a ton of talent between the pipes and is playing the style head coach Geoff Schomogyi wants them to play.
Witnessing this years North York’s campaign, it’s hard to imagine them slowing down anytime soon. Which forces the conclusion, the Rangers are the real deal.
A lot of change took place when head coach Schomogyi took over behind the bench last year. With the help of general manager Claude Desjardins, they traded for players like forwards Ross Krieger, Noah Robinson and goalie Jett Alexander, who are now the main core. Near the end of last season, the team showed flashes of what it could possibly be. Even though the Rangers fell to the South Division winning Oakville Blades in in five games of the first round of the playoffs, all the games came down to the last second. Every single game in the series was decided by two goals or fewer.
Geoff and Claude continued to search for players they wanted representing North York and it shown with signings of Noah Jordan, Josh Cammalleri, Grayden Gottschalk, and many more. One can’t forget about the rookies making their OJHL debuts. Davis Park, two goals against the Buzzers when the Rangers were short handed. Jesse Tucker, seven points in 12 games and Harrison Rees playing top defensive pair minutes in all situations.
All of these moves have equated into great overall depth, which gives the head coach confidence in anyone he puts on the ice no matter the situation.
“It’s definitely something that we want,” said Schomogyi. “We want to be able to play four lines and have contribution from every line. So far it has been a big asset and we hope it continues.”
The Rangers contain the talent to score consistently but it’s the focus on the defensive end that has been a catalyst for their improvement. Last year they allowed 3.35 goal per game, which sat 13th and struggled on the penalty kill posting the 3rd worst percentage at 75.48%.
Compare that to now, the Rangers experienced a 180, allowing the second fewest goals per game (2.07) and hold the best penalty kill at a success rate of 92.86%. Geoff kept it simple when describing the defensive success, “I think there is more pride and execution so far this year.”
It’s tough to find not one, but two great goalies that an organization can rely on night in and night out. The Rangers may have the best one-two punch in the entire league. Alexander, who was named to the 2016-2017 OJHL First Team All-Prospect, continues to show why the league put him on that list. He stands at a 1.97 goals against average and .937 save percentage.
When the team turns to the other goalie Colby Muise, he doesn’t miss a beat, putting up a 2.16 GAA and .917 SV%. Trust me, there’s been a couple times in games, when North York is a bit sloppy or experiencing a rough patch and both goaltenders kept them in it with outstanding saves. Alexander and Muise are elite.
It’s one thing for a team to be composed of talented players, it’s a completely different thing for those talented players to fully buy in to what the coach is preaching. That’s what the Rangers’ personnel continue to do since training camp, listen and do. If it’s their aggressive fore-check, knack of scoring, or defensive responsibility, they go 100 miles per hour and it’s shown in their results. Three of their four losses were decided by one goal and the Rangers only conceded more than three goals once.
It may be difficult to contain this strict culture in the OJHL, but it’s a goal head coach Schomogyi targets.
“Every year is going to be different,” he said. “There are always new players coming and going. There seems to be a lot of turnover from year to year in this league. For us as an organization we want to have the right culture and players apart of our program.”
There is still four and half months left in the season. Which comes with its fair share of obstacles, for instance all the injuries North York is facing right now. Some teams get out to a fast start before falling off a cliff, but that scenario won’t happen to this squad. They are too balance from top to bottom, contain the goaltending to make a deep playoff run and play the feisty defensive structure Schomogyi urges.
Mix those elements together and it equals sustainable success. The Rangers are the real deal.