By Jamie Neugebauer – Communications Director
As hard as it is be beaten on a controversial non-call by the referees, the old adage certainly rings true in the face of North York’s elimination in Game 6 to the Georgetown Raiders Sunday: “Sometimes, you simply have to play better than the referees ref,”; the Raiders did that, the Rangers did not.
Talented young Georgetown defender Matthew Cairns burst down the left wing and in on North York net minder Gianluca Baggetta with two minutes left in the second period, with the score tied at two. Cairns’ initial shot was stopped, but the Cornell committed defender appeared to precede to plough into Baggetta unaided, leaving the 20-year-old goaltender sprawling on the ice, and second-year forward Bailey Molella with an empty net.
That’s the way it goes sometimes, and it was truly a failure to execute, and not prejudicial refereeing, that cost this North York team, believed to be the one of the best squads the organization has produced in years, a chance at the Southwest Conference final.
This is particularly true given the fact that the Rangers flew out to an impressive 2-0 lead in the series.
“I don’t know if you could pinpoint one thing that went wrong,” said North York head coach Brent Hughes.
“But simply put, the last few games we were not putting the puck in the net like we usually do. I am not taking anything away from Georgetown, they re-grouped and battled hard on both ends of the ice; and they were just fortunate to get a few more bounces than we did.”
Ashur Elliot got the Raiders’ reward for a quick start as he pounded home a rebound that Baggetta left in the middle of the slot 13:20 into the opening period.
North York energy man Nick Zanette popped in two quick ones eight minutes apart in the second period, first beating Georgetown goaltender Andrew Masters to the far side on a short-handed 2-on-1, and then banking a puck in off Masters from below the goal line at the 10:22 mark.
The Rangers had a lead, as they did at some point in every single game in the series.
Two straight tripping penalties against North York finally gave the Raiders the chance to rally like they had in the previous three contests, as defender Jake Payette’s wrist shot from the point took a brutal deflection off North York D-man Shawn Tessier, and past a helpless Baggetta at 14:51 on the second of those man advantages.
Molella’s controversial winning goal really was a microcosm of the series from Games 3 to 6, the bounces went Georgetown’s way when they needed them; but it was so often their determination, grit and, attention to detail that created those bounces.
An early third-period five-on-three power play for North York yielded very little, and Masters shut the door the rest of the way.
Molella then broke North York hearts again when he beat a screened Baggetta off a face-off with just over five minutes left in regulation; and then a pretty and patient move by young Raiders star Jack Jacome less than a minute after that, in which he shelved a backhand in alone in front of Baggetta, was the icing on the Georgetown cake.
The vaunted Rangers power play went 2-for-30 on the series, and the club was outscored 19-10 over the final four contests; all Georgetown wins.
But for the six 20-year-olds, including captain Jeremy Szabo, who has been with the North York organization for over 10 years, those statistics mean nothing now.
All that is left is to be proud of what the group accomplished, and the bonds that were built between a truly special group of young men.
“It was the best group of kids that I’ve ever coached in my life,” said Hughes.
“This team had such a tight dressing room, and together they worked so hard. The 20 years olds: we wish them all the best and thank them for everything they’ve done; especially our captain Jeremy Szabo who has been here since Day 1. He is the definition of what it means to be a North York Ranger. I was honoured to coach all these guys, and its tough to put into words right now, but I’m happy for all of them, and for the way they’ve acquitted themselves this season.”