Watching the Marlies this year partially feels like watching a clock turning its hands back. It was on the first day of training camp that a brand new name appeared on the roster. While roster changes aren’t exactly an AHL novelty, seeing Paul Ranger’s name on a hockey jersey makes one take a quick peek towards the calendar.
If you did turn back the hands of time, Ranger would be a 25-year-old defenseman playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With a promising career ahead of him, he suddenly left the game many of us would pay to play. Personal reasons or a different motive entirely, it wasn’t quite clear why he left hockey only to find him himself coaching his hometown’s bantam team in Whitby, Ontario.
On August 21, 2012, after almost three seasons removed from competitive hockey, this left handed shooting defenseman signed a minor league deal with the Marlies. And, it was during a recent Marlies game against the Abbotsford Heat that I once again noticed Paul Ranger, a player like many others this year, clearly playing in a league below his caliber.
I have no doubt that Ranger, now aged 28, is still an NHL player. You see it when he’s rushing the puck, showing good puck skills or making that great breakout pass. At 6ft 3in tall, he’s also very strong guy with a big reach, who’s quite a handful in the corners. Adept at offense and very skilled defensively, Paul Ranger is probably the most complete defenseman on the Marlies roster this season.
Coach Dallas Eakins had a glowing review of his game:
“He just keeps getting better and better. It’s a great story for me. A guy who was off that long, to come back in day one of training camp and set the tone with his fitness level, to pick up his game this fast … it shows not only his hockey ability, but his mental fortitude.”
It most certainly is a great story, both for Ranger and the Marlies. The Maple Leafs affiliate benefited from adding free talent to the roster and the Leafs might still reap those rewards. Thanks to some fantastic work by Claude Loiselle, who first contacted Ranger’s agent to inquire about his client’s wishes to play hockey once again, we’re seeing a resurrection of what was once an up and coming talent. At 28, progressing like he has, it’s still not too late for him to hit the big time.
In a way, feel good stories like Paul’s keep us engaged because deep down we all want to believe it’s never too late to change ours minds, to restore polish to parts of our lives we neglected along the way. Every game is a tryout, and much like being touched by a master restorer, Paul Ranger is once again showing polish worthy of the best league in the world.