|First regular season title since
After a sub-par start against the Guelph Storm on Tuesday night, the Rangers did little from the get-go to improve on that in the return match a nationally televised game played infront of over 6,200 at the Memorial Auditorium. The Storm dominated in the early going but veteran netminder: Scott Dickie closed the door and kept it shut as the Rangers found the legs. Play-by-play commentator: Don Cameron comments were indicative of a man watching a team which he knew was capable of much, much more in the opening minutes. The Rangers turned up the intensity and the team's powerplay which again looked impressive despite failing to convert for the second straight game, created the Rangers' opening goal. With time just expired on a Storm penalty, Steve Eminger walked in, danced around a Storm forward, blasting a shot which was barely stopped by Andrew Penner. This shot which handcuffed Penner ricocheted straight into the air and was batted in by Gregory Campbell who dove into the crease seeing the puck before anyone had found it. The goal gave the Rangers a lead in the first period, a lead that they would not relinquish through the course of the game. Most of the credit on the Rangers' half of the ice should have gone to Scott Dickie who held the fort while Rangers struggled out of the gates for the second straight game. For Dickie his start was a career high 13th straight, he also achieved a career-high of 31 wins in a season.
The game featured a matchup of two fierce rivals, one team a thorough-breed deep roster of veterans destined to claim first overall and another (the Storm) a team which really turned it on in the final month of the season becoming one of the hotest teams in the OHL, attempting to advance further in the standings and using this game as preperation for the postseason. The Rangers while seeking revenge against the Storm for snapping their 7 game winning streak, didn't always put their best foot forward in this game. Defenseman Steve Eminger left the game after the first period and Derek Roy didn't see ice for a very sustained period of time in the second period, prompting the use of Matt Grennier at the center position for much of the game, behind Micheal Richards while Paul McFarland headed up the third line. At times in the first period the Rangers didn't show some of the intensity that many fans knew that they were capable of, but on the overall were not quilty of playing a sloppy game.
Adam Keefe, whom has now scored 3 times in the month of March gave the Rangers a two goal cushion in the second period when he zipped a rebound past Andrew Penner (as shown above). Marcus Smith's low point shot found the mark and Penner was unable to prevent a dangerous rebound to Keefe. Keefe scored the goal just after his lengthy penalty sentance had expired after taking an instigator against Andrew Archer who shares the captian responsibilities on the Storm. The Rangers put things away in the third when Evan McGrath stuffed a Derek Roy pass into the top corner just over Penner early in the third period. Ryan Callahan would break Dickie's shutout. Things got interesting in the dying minutes of the game. Scott Dickie was just barely able to stop a shot and in desperation Derek Roy fired the puck down the ice and it just happened to head in the direction of the Storm's then vacated net. After an tripping call on a nice hip check by: Adam Keefe, Dustin Brown was able to score on the powerplay but the goal was far too late with only 21 seconds left on the clock for the Storm to complete any type of comeback.
Both Dickie and Penner earned stars for their strong work between the pipes and George Halkidis who didn't factor in on any of the scoring but was a on-going physical pressence throughout the game and was named the games' second star. Many of the 6,281 in attendance stayed to give the Rangers a standing ovation for their stellar effort during the regular season.
The win left the Rangers with 99 points on
the season with two games remaining on the schedule, but more importantly
clinched the team the regular season championship in the OHL for the first
time since the 1988-'89 season. Aside from winning the Hamilton Spectator
Trophy as regular season champions the Rangers were presented the Great
Canadian Cup troohy as victors of the season series against the Guelph
Storm by virtue of a 5-0-2-1 record, it marked the third time in four seasons
that the Rangers were victors in the season series. Derek Roy was
presented the trophy but as was expected the Rangers showed little jubiliation
in winning a trophy which last season proved meaningless as the Rangers
were swept 4-0 in a 7 game series with the Storm.