The Hamilton Spectator
Rangers are a cultural presence in Glanbrook
Wednesday night is hockey night in Hamilton’s southeast corner, especially when the rival Peach Kings are in town
The second in an occasional series by Spec columnist Steve Milton celebrating top-tier amateur hockey in Hamilton and area.
The list inside a glass display case near the front door reads like a local bus route.
Glanbrook-Grimsby-Niagara Port Dover-Dundas-Dunnville-Hagersville.
But these aren’t whistle-stops, they’re hockey towns; ranked according to their teams’ current standings in the Bloomfield Division of the junior-C Provincial Junior Hockey League. The firstplace Glanbrook Rangers are hosting the detested Grimsby Peach Kings, their longtime rivals and, often, nemeses, and it’s Wednesday night — the hockey night in Hamilton’s southeast corner.
“A lot of people in town equate Wednesdays with the Rangers, so we think it’s important to keep it,” says the team’s director of hockey operations John McDonald, who’s been deeply involved in Hamiltonarea hockey for 27 years, 10 of those with Glanbrook as a coach, general manager or executive. “We’re the only game in Hamilton on a Wednesday night.”
When the Peach Kings visit, geography and history double the size of the usual Rangers crowd. This particular Wednesday night, there are about 400 people sitting on tiered wooden-bench seating running the length of one side of the arena and in a small set of stands jammed behind the net between the small entrance lobby and the ice surface, or watching from an all-purpose community room overlooking the ice surface from the second floor.
Team captain Sean Golebiowski says that Wednesday nights “are real special” and the Glanbrook Arena is a “great hometown barn,” where local knowledge and a sense of belonging provide a huge advantage to the Rangers.
The numbers agree. Glanbrook mauled Grimsby 5-1 on this night and the Rangers’ 92 per cent win rate at home this season is topped — just barely — by the 94 per cent of Grimsby and Essex in the 60-team PJHL, the province’s biggest junior league.
The arena roof is low — it could never accommodate a standard overhead scoreboard — and slants down toward the seated side. On the other side, the cinder-block outer wall is only a couple of metres behind the players’ benches and the booth for the timers and scorers. On winter nights, a sheet of ice often forms on the wall, a startling sight to incoming teams.
The Rangers and their arena have provided Glanbrook with some self-identify right from the start. A couple months after a group of 10 core founders raised the money to have the rink built and running by August 1975, the Rangers began play in the old Niagara Junior-C League. That came only a year after the province controversially welded Glanford, Binbrook, Mount Hope and other municipalities together as an independent township under the unfamiliar portmanteau of Glanbrook.
The Rangers helped make it familiar by becoming a cultural presence, and eventually, a dominant success. From 1997 to 1999 they won three straight Ontario junior-C titles, before a down period set in. But they reached the provincial final five years ago, losing to Lakefield, and have made it to the division final in the three seasons since then, all against the Peach Kings. They lost two. The pandemic curtailed the other series.
It costs about $75,000 to $150,000 to run a junior-C team and McDonald says the Rangers are definitely “on the upper end” of that, because they help about a dozen players with university or college tuition, provide junior-A-level equipment and dressing room facilities, charter a bus for road games, and charge players only a $400 fee, less than 10 per cent of the pay-to-play registrations at many junior franchises in the area.
As much as this team has talent, it’s not really much without the fantastic group of volunteers.
ANDY TAIT GLANBROOK RANGERS HEAD COACH
Community-run by a board of directors, the Rangers have always counted heavily upon volunteers to help run game nights and generate income, further tightening the bond between neighbourhood and team. McDonald says it’s been harder to attract volunteers in recent years, but that there are about 15 to 20 “who really make this team work.” And everyone you talk to mentions longtime Ranger executive Vern Gaddye as the paragon of dedicated volunteerism.
“As much as this team has talent, it’s not really much without the fantastic group of volunteers and guys like Vern,” says head coach Andy Tait, who considers McDonald a mentor and one of the best executives in local hockey. “It’s a great organization. They treat all of us well. We have fans who’ve been around since the glory days of the three-peats, and there’s always expectations on us to do well.”
Scorekeeper Kayla Wallingham lives only five minutes away, played minor hockey for Glanbrook and began as an unpaid volunteer at tournaments several years ago, although she’s now paid for her game-day work.
“It means a lot to Glanbrook,” she says. “Every Wednesday it’s a big event for us. Hockey games here make you feel good … make you feel like you’re a part of the town, especially the games against Grimsby.”
Operating costs are met by various fundraisers throughout the year, ads in one of the few full-colour game programs remaining in junior-C hockey, 50/50 draws, sponsorship on every player’s sweater, advertising on the boards and walls, team merchandise sold in the small entrance lobby and game-day tickets at $10. Two bucks off for seniors and students.
McDonald and general manager Brian Holloway gather the playing talent, but one of their best recruiting tools has become word of mouth. Glanbrook is a go-to place for top local players who want a little less game and practice commitment than required in junior-A or B and who are on the cusp of their post-hockey lives. The Rangers focus almost exclusively on Hamilton-Burlington players, as do many of other teams in the division.
With the regular-season concluding in early March, the Rangers have almost clinched first in the division. Although anything can happen in the playoffs, all indicators point to another GlanbrookGrimsby division title series for the right to advance to the conference final.
“That’s still a long way down the road,” Golebiowski cautions. “But if we can put together full 60-minute games, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop us, really.”