Three games in three days over the weekend left the Rangers with this key lesson: being ranked 17th in the nation only makes other teams want to beat you even more.
North York held off a third-period rally on Friday to beat the Dukes in Wellington 8-6 for midget call-up Jett Alexander’s first career OJHL victory, but small mental mistakes and a sudden lack of finish proved costly the next two days, as the Rangers fell in Oakville Saturday, and then were blanked at home by the Mississauga Chargers Sunday.
Sunday’s upset at the hands of the struggling Chargers truly centred around the performance of former North York minor hockey and Junior ‘A’ goaltender Andrew Cipollone, who was nothing short of spectacular while making 45 saves for his first career junior shutout.
Rangers bench boss Brent Hughes coached Cipollone in midget, and was undeniably proud of the Chargers goaltender.
“You don’t want to be happy for him after he beat us, but I mean, I know the kid,” said Hughes.
“He has a great family. I am obviously pumped for him, and he played unbelievable today. At the end of the day I couldn’t ask much more from my guys in the third period, obviously the first period we weren’t at our best. Second and third, Chip stood on his head, and those things are going to happen.”
Mississauga captain Stefano Alonzi, second-year man Steve Mariani, and former Brampton Junior ‘B’ standout Kevin Bray had the goals for the Chargers, while North York had loads of chances through the second and third periods, outshooting the clearly fatigued visitors 35-18 over that span.
The Rangers have now lost three of their last four, and Coach Hughes chose to send a message to a couple players in the third period by shortening his bench considerably.
“The game is played at both ends of the ice,” he said.
“Do those guys want to take my head off right now? Sure. Do I blame them? No, but at the end of the day, competing and playing hard and smart isn’t a lightswitch – you can’t just turn it off and on whenever you want. All these guys want something with their careers, and the biggest thing is that they have to stay consistent. The message was sent today, and it’s all about how they respond.”
Grayden Gottschalk and Kyle Clarke had the goals Saturday in Oakville, but the club has now fallen one point back of the first place Blades with one game in hand after 19 contests.
North York will now head to Buffalo to take on the West Division-leading Junior Sabres. Puck drops at the Harborcenter in downtown Buffalo at 7:35 p.m.
“A message I’ve sent to my guys is that we’ve made a name for ourselves now and every team we play, either at home or on the road, they are going to come for us” said Hughes.
“I want to see them play a full 60 minutes. We had a good two periods in Wellington on Friday, and then went to sleep in the third. So, Buffalo is a team that likes to play a rough, grind it out style, so it is going to take a lot of character to go in there and take two points.”