NORTH YORK, ON - APRIL 10: Isa Parekh #27 of the North York Rangers celebrates a goal with his bench during the first period at the Herbert Carnegie Centennial Arena on April 10, 2022 in Ontario, Canada (Photo by Ray MacAloney / OJHL Images)
April 11, 2022

5:42 PM EDT

The North York Rangers entered the 2022 postseason as the No. 2 seed in the South Division, but anything short of a championship would be considered a disappointment after a season that saw them lead the South for the lion’s share of the schedule.

The only thing separating the Rangers from their first Frank L. Buckland Cup in 39 years? 11 victories. They looked for the first of those Sunday afternoon against the St. Michaels Buzzers in Game 1 of their first round best-of-3. North York earned points in six of seven regular season meetings with their rivals down Bathurst Street (five wins, one tie), but only had a +6 goal differential in the season series. The blueshirts knew it would be a dogfight coming in, and Game 1 lived up to the bill.

It didn’t take long for both teams to find their playoff intensity. There were numerous heavy hits levied by both teams, and the physicality only ratcheted up as the game progressed. While it was a physical affair, it was a clean game as both teams played within the bounds of the rulebook, and there was minimal after-whistle activity. A scary moment came in the second period when Dan Baldassarra – who has been nicked twice as of late and missed the Rangers’ Feb. 27 win over Lindsay due to injury – was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was knocked face-first into the partition that connects the visiting bench to the glass. Luckily, he got up under his own power and did not miss a shift.

With just under 7:00 remaining in the first, the Rangers got on the board shorthanded. After the Rangers cleared the puck back into the St. Mikes zone, Sean Clarke came in on the forecheck and stripped Luca Marcelitti of the puck. He circled in behind the net, swung out into the slot before firing one on goal that snuck through surprise Buzzers starter Matthew Perdue for a 1-0 lead.

The game would stay that way through two periods, as the Rangers territorially dominated the Buzzers in the middle frame. There were multiple instances in the second where the Rangers hemmed the visitors in their own zone for extended periods, winning puck battles and playing a strong cycle game. For what it’s worth, the Buzzers did a solid job of keeping much of the Rangers offence to the periphery, and not giving up many quality looks. The Rangers only allowed six Buzzer shots in the second, and held a 26-11 shot advantage at the end of two.

In the third, the Buzzers nearly drew even as Riley Sutherland cut wide on the Ranger defence and drove hard to the net, but James Gray made an excellent save to keep his team in the lead. Not long after, the home side got the insurance it was looking for. The Rangers won another puck battle back of the St. Michaels net and Luca Rea fed one back to the point for Wilson Farrow. His shot towards the goal hit a Buzzers stick on the way through and eluded Perdue for a 2-0 Ranger lead. Then, with the St. Mike’s net empty, George Fegaras lugged the puck through centre into the offensive zone and fired one into the gaping cage to solidify a 3-0 Ranger win, and the team’s second consecutive shutout going back to the regular-season finale.

The win moves the Rangers to within one victory of Round 2. They will look to get out the brooms on Tuesday night over at the school and book their ticket to the South Division Final. Puck drop for Game 2 is 7:30 pm. Should the Buzzers win and force a series-deciding Game 3, that will be Thursday night from Herbert H. Carnegie Centre at 7:30 pm.