The rink at Les Galeries de la Capitale, the mall in Quebec, the opposition this morning was formidable – The Russian Selects from Moscow, a team, that hadn’t lost a game all year. The Russians have certainly been the talk of the tournament in Quebec with their bold red uniforms, precise skills, and 7-0 victory in their first qualifying match.
The Pee Wee Rangers were very mindful that they were representing not only the red, white, and blue of the New York Rangers but the red, white, and blue of their flag and country, and so the New York squad started the game at the highest level they have shown all tournament, skating, passing, and checking with abandon, buzzing the Russians in all three zones.
The fast pace of the Rangers paid dividends in the first period as Christian Jiminez found Victor Czerneckianair on an outlet pass along the right sidewall. Czerneckianair flew up the right side, cut towards the Russian goal, and slid the puck past the sprawling goalie to give the Pee Wee Rangers a 1-0 lead at 10:15. Those first goals are so important as they reinforce positive momentum. Sure enough, less than two minutes later, Anthony Cipollone went hard to the net and banged home a goal, with hard-working assists from Zach Tonelli and Ben Presley. The scoreboard read 2-0 in favor of the Pee Wee Rangers.
Every hockey game has its twists and turns, and this one did not lack them. In the second period the Russians raised their level and took it to the New York net with a few breakaways and two-on-ones. Every time they did, Rangers goaltender Gus Bylin was there with a glove, stick, blocker, or pads to make some huge saves.
As the third period began the Pee Wee Rangers still held a 2-0 lead thanks to Bylin’s timely goaltending, but the Russians were coming hard. A New York powerplay turned into a Russian short-handed goal at 6:40 of the third. Less than three minutes later the team from Moscow scored again. That comfortable two goal lead for New York had vanished.
Less than three minutes later, pressing the attack in the Russian zone, Captain Christian Jiminez found PJ Neal who slid the puck over to center Aidan Cobb, and Cobb found the back of the Russian net – 3-2 New York Pee Wee Rangers with 3:12 left to play. The red, white, and blue contingent of parents and fans were on their feet cheering.
Those final three-plus minutes were long, but the roller-coaster ride left the Rangers at a high point with their most impressive victory of the tournament thus far. Final score 3-2 New York. Aidan Cobb, who scored the game winner, was the proud recipient of the Pee Wee Rangers Broadway Hat.
The victory and the quality of the performance couldn’t have come at a better time. The International Pee Wee Tournament now moves to elimination games. Survive and advance, lose and go home. The Rangers are rising at the right time as they look forward to facing the Gatineau (Quebec) Olympiques in a crucial showdown. After the game, Rangers co-coach Paul Messier looked forward tomorrow evening’s game at the Arpidrome, “I think our boys know that they have to play a high tempo, concerted effort for every minute of all three periods. Everyone will need to bring their A game, for sure, and, if we do, I really like our chances.”