Kyle Clarke scored twice and Ryan Hunt chipped in the winner at 6:44 of the third period as the North York Rangers outlasted the Aurora Tigers 5-3 Sunday.
Gianluca Baggetta was exceptional, making 31 stops in the North York net to grab his 10th victory of the season; while Alex Fotinos and Josh Boyko split 30 saves for Aurora.
Rangers’ head coach Brent Hughes was particularly happy afterward to see the hard-working Clarke get rewarded for his tremendous efforts every game.
“Hard work pays off,” said Hughes.
“Kyle does not take a shift off and that’s why he gets rewarded. It is not the pretty ones that are going his way, it’s the greasy hard-working ones; and for a guy his size to get success I am certainly happy for him.”
Clarke opened the scoring 1:42 into the second period when the puck took a bounce off Aurora forward Darren Iwai’s skate in the North York zone, dribbled into the neutral zone, and created a breakaway for the second-year Rangers’ forward.
Iwai made amends four minutes later by jamming home a rebound from an Alex Formenton wrister, but it took Keegan Blasby only a minute to retake the lead for North York with a vicious blast from the right circle.
Josh Dame doubled the Ranger lead less than a minute later by converted a rebound from a Jeremy Szabo point shot, and North York headed into the third period with a 3-1 lead.
Yet Aurora is a top team in this league, and top teams tend not to go down easy.
Liam Neuman started the comeback just over four minutes into the third period when he jammed in a rebound from a James Thomson wrist shot, and then Ryan Shaw evened the contest, tapping in from five feet on a Neuman centring feed.
Hunt put the hosts back up for good with his third game-winner of the season at the 6:44-mark of the final frame, and Clarke sealed the deal with an empty netter with 1:15 left on the clock.
The victory moved the Rangers within three points of the South Division leading Oakville Blades, and two points of fourth place Burlington with 16 games remaining on North York’s schedule.
“This time of year any two points is huge,” Hughes said.
“No matter who you are playing it should not change your preparation towards the game. Every game now we are getting ourselves ready for the playoffs, we are well past the second half, and that preparation starts in practice.”
North York is next in action on Saturday night when it travels to Scotiabank Pond to take on the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, the club one point behind them in the South. Puck drops on the crucial encounter at 8 p.m.
(Article by Jamie Neugebauer, image courtesy OJHL Images)