U18 AA Red OHF Champions!, News (Oakville Rangers Hockey Club)

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Apr 26, 2023 | Ben Brown | 4583 views
U18 AA Red OHF Champions!
Oakville Rangers Finish Storybook Season With a Storybook Ending

It was a dark sight early in the morning on Sunday, April 23rd in Kitchener, Ontario Canada. Though it was just 4 floors up at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Oakville Rangers U18 AA Hockey team felt they were 10,000 feet in the air, sick to their stomachs with anxiety....

Having just come off of a hard-fought 3-1 win against the Kitchener Jr. Rangers the night before, the boys suited up at 6 am to take on the same team again. Except this time, it was the semi-finals which determined whether or not Oakville would have a shot at being the 1st ever AA team from Oakville to win an Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF) provincial championship. Each player pushed their worries aside as they packed up and headed to the rink. Sharply dressed, headphones on, locked and loaded to leave all they had on the ice that morning. This would be the 5th time that Oakville's season was on the line in a single elimination game and the team wasn’t sure if it would be their last hockey game ever.

Being 18 years old, most of these boys have been playing the game for 10+ years. We’re talking about 5 days of practice per week (in addition to games), whilst going through elementary and transitioning into high school. This was the last year many of these young men would ever wear the Oakville Ranger crescent on their chest and they made sure to represent it well.

When the puck was dropped, the team came out strong, answering the Kitchener Ranger's physicality with energy and stamina. Tyler Henshaw would get Oakville on the board early, followed in the next period by Caled St Onge, but Kitchener’s Skylar Roeder answered right back making the game 2-1 by the end of the 2nd period. Fighting hard to tie the game, Kitchener pulled their goalie for an empty net but Oakville wouldn’t budge - potting 2 empty net goals for the 4-1 win, ending Kitchener's season. The building was fraught with a combination of excitement and worry as this win was major, but meant Oakville had to face one of their toughest opponents yet - the Waterloo Wolves.

The Wolves were undefeated in this tournament and had beaten Oakville just 2 days prior. Though the loss was only 3-1, Oakville was unable to pierce through the terrific goaltending from Waterloo’s Ben Pendleton and the brute physicality from the Wolves team as a whole.  Everyone knew this would be no easy championship game for either team. If you were to walk into that building 20 minutes before the puck dropped at the OHF final, you would see individuals from both teams looking out onto the ice, taking in that they would both lace up their skates and put on their team's jersey one last time.

The building began to fill up with fans, parents nervous for what would happen but also sentimental that this would be the last time they got to see their children play the game they’ve dedicated their lives to and loved for so long. After a sentimental live singing of the National Anthem, where the crowd and players sang along, the game was on.  The unexpecting Wolves were brutally awoken by an unseen level of energy and hunger from Oakville as the Rangers dominated the first period - scoring 3 unanswered goals from Cooper Simpson, Cayden Basso, and Ben Farrell.

As the 1st intermission concluded, the 2nd period looked a lot different. Waterloo began to play very defensively, which caused Oakville to eventually take a penalty that Waterloo’s Declan Uniac would capitalize on - closing out the 2nd period at 3-1. The third period was essentially a contained physical feud with Waterloo putting everything they had into scoring and eventually doing so. The game is now 3-2 with 1:31 left, Waterloo has an empty net for the extra attacker, and Oakville draws a penalty. The Rangers now have 4 players to Waterloo’s 6 but Oakville goaltender Zack Brown refused to go down easily. Brown stood strong as he faced a barrage of shots while being screened from visibility, relying solely on adrenaline and muscle memory. Seconds winded down as the team boxed up in defense. “5… 4… 3… 2… 1” buzzer

The Rangers win. Gloves and helmets flew up in the air… Parents and fans flood the ice.  The Oakville Rangers U18 AA Hockey team had done it. They had made history, becoming the first-ever AA team from Oakville to win an OHF championship. The team celebrated with tears in their eyes, embracing each other and their coaches, knowing that this was the end of an era. Medals, awards, OHF trophy, speeches, hand-shaking, pictures, Gatorade shower, more smiles, more tears, more hugs, more pictures…

As they took off their jerseys for the last time, the memories of early morning practices, grueling workouts, and hard-fought games flooded their minds. These young men had given their all for their team, their home, and their families, and they had come out on top. So while this game may have been the only thing that could’ve ended this team's season - it most certainly could not end the brotherhood shared among these boys. This is a group of fine young men, dedicated to playing for each other, willing to do whatever it takes to defend their own, and most importantly not leaving anything left in the tank as they emerge, yet again, beyond well deserved… Victorious.