By Jake Howorth
A month into the season, I wrote an article saying the North York Rangers are the real deal. Has my view changed since October 19th? Not a chance. If anything, the article does not do the team justice. This roster is currently on the path to rewrite history for the franchise.
Of course, there are bumps, bruises, highs and lows in any season, but this one feels different. Every time I step into the barn of Herbert H. Carnegie Centennial Centre on Sundays and feel the cold brisk air, the belief grows. It’s not just because I cover the team and want them to do well. There’s something that jumps at me about this particular squad from top to bottom.
The Rangers have a long history, heck my Dad who’s 60 years old got cut when he tried out back in the day. Even with the heavy archives attached to the red, blue and white, a void remains within the franchise on a daily basis.
North York joined the OPJHL in 1972-1973 and the only title came in 1977, but since then they haven’t been anywhere near the hardware. This year is probably the best chance to snap their 41-year drought.
As the classic cliché goes, ‘defense wins championships’, and for the North York case, they embody it under second-year head coach Geoff Schomogyi.
Led by the two-headed goalie dragon of Jett Alexander and Colby Muise, the Rangers continue to post eye-popping numbers. They’ve allowed the fewest goals per game at 1.96, the second least amount of shots and the penalty kill is converting at a 92.3% success rate. Recently they killed 35 of 36 penalties. These are numbers one doesn’t want to go up against in a seven-game series.
What makes these numbers even more special is how the forwards are impacting them. Everyone has completely bought into the plan laid down by Schomogyi. Every single player is back-checking and most importantly blocking shots. It doesn’t matter if it’s the star or the rookie, all are lining up to put their bodies on the line for the betterment of the team.
The one thing the Rangers will always get is fantastic goaltending, no matter who’s between the pipes. Alexander is a legitimate NHL prospect, while Muise is the two-reigning OJHL goalie of the month. Both sit top five in goals-against average and save percentage (Muise leads the league in both categories). Both have carried or displayed outstanding saves to keep the team in games from time-to-time.
There are two things that can hold the team back from reaching their potential of creating history. One is the powerplay and the other is playing a consistent 60-minutes.
The power play continues to be an issue since the beginning of the season. They sit 16th of 22 teams at 14.1%. It’s been proven time and time again, in order to make a serious run at a championship no matter the league, a good powerplay is key.
The Rangers need to take advantage of it when given it. North York so far has scored the second-fewest power play goals (20). An additional problem could be the lack of chances with the extra man compared to the rest of the league. The Rangers have only been on the power play 142 times, the fewest by far compared to the league average of 192.
When I call an entire game, a majority of the time I’m impressed of how dominant the Rangers can be. It happens when the forecheck is relentless, physical, smart play in the defensive zone and quick passes. The problem is there are a few periods when one scratches their head thinking and wondering what’s going on. This comes down to playing full and consistent 60-minutes.
The Rangers need to make sure these inconsistencies don’t happen down the stretch or in the playoffs. It could be the difference between making a real run for a title to being upended in the early rounds.
They will get a good chance to smooth out these hard edges in the near future. After the Rangers travel to Mississauga on Saturday, their next three games are against title-contenders in the Newmarket Hurricanes, the Markham Royals and their rival Toronto Patriots.
This year’s team currently sits second in the tough South division with a record of 29-10-1-5 (W-L-T-OTL) for 64 points. They’ve challenged and competed successfully with many powerful teams the OJHL has to offer and their record reflects it. With nine games remaining on the schedule before the playoffs, these Rangers are only five wins shy of tying the organization’s all-time record of 34 wins. That’s the same year the Rangers went on to capture their first and only title.
History could be rewritten just a couple months down the road.
Photo from Steven Ellis/North York Rangers