Brush with history establishing Danika Ranger as the real deal

As Canada looks to avenge its overtime loss to the United States in the gold medal match of the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, a key component can be found between the pipes. Having already made history as the first player to have gained the distinction of Top Goaltender honors at the Esso Cup and the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, Danika Ranger is ready to stake her claim at the 2017 edition of the U18 worlds.

Currently starring with the PWHL’s Durham West Lightning, where she led the league in goals-against average (0.99) and save percentage (.955) during the 2015-16 campaign, the native of North Bay, Ontario was also recognized as the league’s Goaltender of the Year, respectively. Ranger would win the Esso Cup in 2015 with the Sudbury Lady Wolves while starring for the powerhouse Team Ontario Red squad at a victorious outcome at U18 nationals in November 2016, the tenth gold medal in team history.

As a side note, she is only the second player ever to have won gold medal at the Esso Cup and U18 nationals. The other is current Toronto Furies rookie Michela Cava. A former star at the NCAA level with the Connecticut Huskies and UMD Bulldogs, Cava accomplished the feat with the Thunder Bay Queens in 2010 and the prominent Ontario Red in 2011.

At the 2016 National Under-18 women’s championships, Ranger and Team Ontario Red faced off against six-time silver medalist Team Quebec for the gold medal. A scoreless first period saw Ranger make 11 saves, helping to set a tone filled with composure and poise. In a game where the first two periods saw a seemingly countless number of penalties, a 4-1 final still resulted in a hard-fought contest. After Sarah Fillier scored the first goal of the game at the 6:07 mark of the second, Ontario Red would be called for six straight penalties.

With Quebec’s Alexie Guay called or a double minor at 18:31, it opened the offensive floodgates as Avery Mitchell, Ranger’s future teammate with Team Canada added to Ontario Red’s lead. Merely 23 seconds after Mitchell’s marker, Stouffville’s Camryn Tait provided a three-goal cushion.

In the third period, Alexa Vasko, whose grandfather Elmer once played for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, scored the fourth goal for Ontario Red, while Joannie Garand spoiled Ranger’s bid for a shutout. Making 31 saves, Ranger emerged as a key factor in the 4-1 triumph, going undefeated in the tournament with a 3-0 mark, while sporting an exceptional 1.00 goals against average.

The chance to stand between the pipes at the 2017 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships has served as Ranger’s coming out party. Her confidence would quickly rise to the surface, surrendering one goal in Canada’s victory over a boys team from the Czech Republic, who are the host country for this year’s edition of the U18 Worlds.

Coincidentally, her fellow goaltender on Canada’s roster is Edith D’Astous-Moreau, who was the goaltender for Team Quebec when Ranger captured the national U18 crown with Team Ontario Red. Adding to the sense of national pride and tradition is the fact that her goaltender coach is Amanda Mazzotta, who competed with Canada at the inaugural U18 Women’s Worlds in 2008.

While it seems difficult to fathom that Ranger is the only member of Canada’s roster that was not part of the team’s summer camp, her heroics with Team Ontario Red definitely raised her stock, establishing her as a prime time player. Among Ranger’s highlights at the 2017 U18 Worlds was the fact that she registered an overtime shutout victory against the United States. With team captain Ashton Bell scoring at 1:57 of OT, it provided the Canadian contingent with a highly emotional 1-0 triumph. Ranger would register 23 saves while American backstop Alex Gulstene faced 30 shots in the loss. As a side note, a gold medal at the U18 Worlds would make her the first Canadian female goaltender (and player) to have won the Esso Cup, the U18 Nats and IIHF U18 Worlds.

Although she was on the wish list of every NCAA recruiter, Ranger is returning to her roots, opting to compete in the Ontario University Athletics’ conference with North Bay’s Nipissing Lakers, led by head coach (and former NHL All-Star) Darren Turcotte. For a program that competed in the OUA semifinals in 2016, the Lakers are inching ever closer to a chance to play for a national title. With a prodigious talent such as Ranger, that elusive opportunity may prove to be a victorious reality.

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