Rangers Finish Storybook Season With a Storybook Endin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.