RANGERS DROP WEEKEND BACK-TO-BACK; FALL OUT OF TOP SPOT IN SOUTH
The North York Rangers had a busy week ahead of them, as they closed out a stretch of five of six games on home ice. The headliner for the Rangers was a battle with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens on the road. That game would have major South Division playoff implications, as the Rangers entered the week a point up on the Jr. C’s for top spot in the South. However, the week began with a rare Wednesday matinee against the Wellington Dukes, who are in a dogfight of their own for first in the East.
DUKES at RANGERS – WED., FEB 23
The last time the Dukes were at the Herbert H. Carnegie Centre, way back in October, the Rangers pounced all over the Dukes – with George Fegaras scoring just 40 seconds in – and shut them out 6-0 behind a 31-save shutout from James Gray. This game got off to a similarly-inauspicious start for the visitors, who found themselves down 1-0 just 3:25 in as Joseph Lionti tapped in a loose puck at the side of the Dukes net, giving his club the early lead. The Rangers were far from done. Just one second before the 8:00 mark of the first, Luca Rea accepted a centring pass from Lionti and sniped one over the glove hand of Wellington netminder Ethan Morrow for his 14th of the year to stake his team to a 2-0 lead. Then, just 2:11 later, Isa Parekh scored an eerily similar goal to the one he scored in that 6-0 win over the Dukes, beating Morrow to the left post and wrapping home his 4th. That made it 3-0 Rangers just over halfway through the opening period.
Despite being down 3-0, the Dukes didn’t play particularly poorly in this game. Their only downfall was the goaltender they were facing happens to be first or second in all of the major statistical categories for goalies: Gray. The Dukes were finally able to solve him late in the second when captain Emmet Pierce found Jake Vreugendhill trailing the play with a blind pass from the corner, and Vreugdenhill snapped his 15th past Gray to make it 3-1.
Gray was excellent at times in this game, and that was no more evident than in the third period when Gray made three or four spectacular saves to keep the Rangers on top. The two best came on the same sequence, as, after a puck hopped over the stick of Jaden Condotta, Barrett Joynt had a breakaway from centre is in. Gray stopped him not only once, but twice after Joynt got a second attempt off the initial save. Vreugdenhill’s goal was the last one we would see – not for a lack of chances from both teams, however – as the Rangers beat the Dukes 3-1 and evened the season series between the clubs at two wins apiece.
RANGERS at JR. CANADIENS – SAT., FEB 26
The second game of the week for the Rangers entailed a quick trip down the road to Scotiabank Pond to battle a Toronto Jr. Canadiens team that was breathing down their necks. With a win, North York could put some distance between itself and the Jr. C’s, while a loss would leave the Rangers just a point ahead of Toronto in the South.
After nothing for the first 13:30, the teams combined for three goals in 1:53. The home side struck first on a bit of an unfortunate one for the Rangers. The Rangers turned it over at centre and Zev Podolsky found Jeremy Bigras speeding down the left side. His initial shot was stopped by Gray, but the rebound bounced in off the stick of Nick Cordeiro to give the JRC a 1-0 advantage.
Just 39 seconds later, Anthony Piccininno knotted it back up on a shot that appeared to handcuff Toronto starter Selby Warren. That goal was set up by Condotta and it was 1-1 just like that. But, 1:14 after that, the Jr. C’s restored their lead as Sean Clarke had the puck get tied up in his skates. It was then stolen by Liam Fedak who spotted Cooper Bertrand and he fired the go-ahead goal past Gray. It was 2-1 Jr. Canadiens after one.
The teams then traded goals in the second. It began with Tyler Fukakusa tipping home a Matthew Wilde shot from the slot off a broken play to give the hosts their first two-goal lead of the game. The Rangers responded, though, as Nick Cordeiro drove the net, wrapped it around and the puck went off the skate of Rea in front right to Daniel Petreccia who slid it home to cut the lead in half. The blueshirts got back on even terms early in the final frame when Petreccia cut off a Hayden Heinrich clearing attempt along the wall and found Cordeiro in front for the equalizer. It was 3-all.
With less than nine minutes to go, however, the Jr. C’s would take the lead for good. Ben Loretto skated into the zone and took a shot that Gray stopped, but the Ranger goalie uncharacteristically let out a massive rebound, and Ben Van Waterschoot was Johnny on the spot to put home the game winner. That gave Toronto its second win against the Rangers this year and moved them to within a point of first place in the South.
PATRIOTS at RANGERS – SUN., FEB 27
The final game of the week for the Rangers featured their customary Sunday home game, this time with the Toronto Patriots drawing the opposition. This was the second meeting between the two teams at the Herb in 10 days, and the third overall in 16. The biggest question coming in was: what would we see for an encore of the Rangers last-second OT win over the Patriots on Feb. 18.
Just over halfway into the first, the answer began to take form, as McKay Hayes was in the right place at the right time to pick up a loose puck at the side of the Ranger net and bury it to give his club a 1-0 lead. Late in the first, the home side responded as Zach Ophoven couldn’t find a passing option coming out of the corner, so instead dragged into the slot and fired one off the stick of Adam Miwa and past Tyler Curtin to tie the game.
Then, in the second, the Patriots were the beneficiary of some sloppy neutral zone play from the Rangers. Wilson Farrow had a pass go off the skate of Miwa, which sprang Jonathan Mead on a breakaway, and he made a pretty move and went upstairs on Westman to restore the Patriots lead. Then, just less than 10:00 later, the Rangers won a centre ice draw after an incorrectly-called icing, and Jack Hewitt sent one ahead for Sean Clarke. Clarke crossed the line and fired a shot that ramped up off the stick of Ethan Eliopoulos and by netminder Curtin to tie it once more.
Before the period was out, though, another Ranger turnover proved costly. Ethan Best couldn’t get the puck out of his own zone twice. It rolled down to Hardy Westman – making his first start since Dec. 16 after being out with injury – and rather than pounce on the puck, he one-handed the puck right onto the stick of Joseph Martino, who put it home blocker side to give the Patriots the lead again.
The Rangers had all kinds of chances in the third period to tie the game, including a post and a disallowed goal thanks to a high stick. Unfortunately, they were unable to muster similar heroics from their last meeting with the Patriots, and Hayes put the game out of reach with an empty netter on a shot from about 197 feet.
That was the Rangers second consecutive loss, and, by virtue of the Jr. Canadiens 5-2 win over Lindsay, they leapfrogged North York for top spot in the South Division. Those teams have two more meetings remaining, including this coming Saturday at Scotiabank Pond.