By Jamie Neugebauer
Adam Valadao notched the winner and Jason Pucciarelli was superb as the North York Rangers edged the St. Michael’s Buzzers 3-2 at the Herb in Game 1 of their Southwest Conference quarterfinal.
Liam Kerins and Brandon Gaudette had the other goals as the Rangers opened their quest to avenge their conference final loss to the Buzzers last season.
Afterwards North York bench boss John Dean was content, but realistic about his team’s performance.
“It was a great team effort but we still need to be much better,” he said.
“St. Mike’s is a good team with great speed and we need to be better defending against that. Pucciarelli was fantastic and a lot of guys stepped up but we need to play a more complete game.”
Gaudette got the scoring going when he flipped home a rebound after a Zachary Fung snapshot 34 seconds into the game.
CJ Shugart tied it on the power play for the Buzzers at 12:40 of the first period, but Kerins jammed home a back-door pass with the man advantage at 8:58 of the second to give North York the lead back.
Valadao’s winner came just under four minutes later when he received a centering pass from Matthew Whittaker and slipped the puck home on a nice move to the backhand.
Joseph Berton got the Buzzers closer at 2:27 of the third period, but it was as close as the visitors would get as the Rangers grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Pucciarelli made 25 saves while Buzzers net-minder George Argiropoulos faced 29 shots.
“Very excited to get the first win,” Dean said, “but it’s already behind us and we need to focus on improving for the next one.”
North York and St. Mike’s re-convene Friday night at St. Mike’s Arena for Game 2, puck drops at 7:30 p.m.