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Oakville Rangers finish storybook season with a storybook ending

First AA U18 Championship
Rangers U18 AA OHF Champions | Debbie Blue
Rangers U18 AA OHF Champions | Debbie Blue

It was a dark sight early in the morning on Sunday, April 23, in Kitchener, Ontario. Though it was just four 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 a.m. 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 fifth 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 five 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 crest on their chest, and they made sure to represent it well.

When the puck was dropped, the team came out strong, answering the Kitchener Rangers' 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 two 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 it 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 two days prior. Though the loss was only 3-1, Oakville could not pierce through the terrific goaltending from Waterloo's Ben Pendleton and the brute physicality of 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 O Canada, where the crowd and players sang along, the game was on.

The unsuspecting Wolves were brutally awoken by an unseen level of energy and hunger from Oakville as the Rangers dominated the first period - scoring three unanswered goals from Cooper Simpson, Cayden Basso, and Ben Farrell.

As the first 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 four 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 defence. "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.

Over the Boards | Debbie Blue
Over the Boards | Debbie Blue
Piling on | Debbie Blue
Piling on | Debbie Blue

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…

Cup Winners | Debbie Blue
Cup Winners | Debbie Blue

As they took off their jerseys for the last time, the memories of early morning practices, gruelling workouts, and hard-fought games flooded their minds. These young men had given their all for the 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.

The Players: Ben Farrell; Caled St-Onge; Callum Blue; Cam McCully; Cayden Basso; Cooper Simpson; Dante Zardo; Ethan DeRango; Hunter Ellis; Jase Lachowiez; Josh Beaupre; Matthew Lewandowski; Myles Luke; Robby Gray; Tyler Henshaw; Tyler Makowich; Tyler Roseland-Barnes; Tyson Rowan; Will Taylor; Zack Brown

The Coaches: Mark Moro; Alex Susi; Ben Blacker; Robbie Giunta

Would your child enjoy the fun and friendships of the great Canadian game? Oakville Rangers for boys and Oakville Hornets for girls offer the chance to play at any level. Just click Rangers or Hornets to find out more.


Ben Brown

About the Author: Ben Brown

Ben Brown is a local news reporter from Oakville, Ontario, a graduate from WIlfrid Laurier University and a self-published author. His main focus is reporting on crime, local businesses and achievements, and general news assignments throughout town
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