Gabe Vilardi scored the game winning goal in the fourth round of the shootout as the Windsor Spitfires (26-8-4-1) downed the Kitchener Rangers (22-14-2-2) 3-2 in front of 4,838 fans at the WFCU Centre in a game that was nationally televised on Rogers Sportsnet.
There were plenty of captivating storylines as the two teams got set to face off, the biggest being the new additions to both teams since the OHL’s Trade Deadline passed on Tuesday – namely, former Rangers forward and current Spitfire, Jeremy Bracco.
Bracco tallied an assist in his first game with the Spitfires, but was outdone by his former teammate Connor Bunnaman who scored both regulation goals for the Rangers – including his second which came with less than two minutes to play to send the game to extra time.
Goaltenders at both ends of the ice shone in the national spotlight, as each had performances that kept their team in the game on multiple occasions throughout the night.
It was Michael DiPietro (19-6-4-0) who would wind up with the win and was also named the game’s First Star after turning aside 36 of the Rangers’ 38 shots on goal, and four more in the shootout.
Luke Opilka’s (6-7-1-1) outing certainly ranked near the top of his best performances of the season, as the St. Louis native was tested with sprawling saves and breakaway opportunities, yet still managed to stop 18 of 20 Windsor shots, along with three more in the shootout.
The game was also the first for Rangers’ newcomers Andrew Burns and Cole Carter against their former team.
Bunnaman broke a scoreless tie in the second period with his 20th goal of the season, as a Giovanni Vallati shot from the point deflected into the Windsor goal off the foot of Bunnaman. Riley Damiani earned the other assist on the goal, which came at 6:32.
Five minutes later the game was tied, as Logan Stanley notched his fifth of the season, from Bracco and Jalen Chatfield, at 11:30 to make it 1-1.
The Rangers appeared to catch a break as Stanley was called for a double minor and a 10-minute misconduct at 14:55, giving Kitchener a four-minute man advantage.
Not only would Kitchener fail to capitalize but it was the Spitfires who would take advantage, as Aaron Luchuk tallied his 15th of the season, shorthanded, with just three seconds remaining on the Rangers power play. Julius Nattinen and Mikhail Sergachev assisted on the goal which gave Windsor a 2-1 lead at 18:52.
First period shots on goal were 10-6 Kitchener, and 19-14 Rangers after 40 minutes.
With just 1:52 to play in the third period and Opilka on the Rangers bench in favour of an extra attacker, Bunnaman buried a rebound in front of DiPietro for his second of the game to square things up at 2-2. Dylan Di Perna and Adam Mascherin picked up the assists on the goal, which paved the way for 3-on-3 overtime.
It was an exciting, high-intensity extra frame, which included a marvelous offensive chance by Mascherin as he danced into the Windsor zone. It was followed by a fluke opportunity for Bracco as Mascherin lost his footing at the Rangers blueline, but Opilka stood tall and made the save on his former teammate to keep the clock winding down.
The game was off to a shootout which saw the host Spitfires elect to shoot first, but that, too, remained scoreless until the fourth round when Gabe Vilardi was able to get the puck past Opilka.
Luchuk (X), Bracco (X), Nattinen (X) were the other shooters for the Spitfires, while Bunnaman (X), Cole Carter (X), Mascherin (X) and Cedric Schiemenz (X) were the shooters for the Rangers.
Kitchener dominated play in the third period, outshooting Windsor 12-3, then 7-3 in overtime. Final shots on goal were 38-20 in favour of the Rangers.
Both teams were stymied on the man advantage, as Kitchener would finish 0-for-3, and Windsor 0-for-2.
With two successful penalty kills, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $20 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally for a running total this season of $1,310 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Gabe Vilardi (WSR) (3), Connor Bunnaman (KIT) (2) and Michael DiPietro (WSR) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
Andrew Burns, Dylan Di Perna and Darby Llewellyn each wore an “A” and skated as alternates to Rangers captain Frank Hora.
The Rangers are back in action and back on home ice tomorrow, Friday, January 13th when they host the Barrie Colts for the lone time this season at 7:30pm. They wrap up the weekend on Sunday, also at home, when they host the Erie Otters at the Aud at 2pm.
Regular season tickets to Kitchener Rangers home games are $22.50 each for adults, $18.50 for children 12 and under, including HST and are available in person or by calling the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Box Office or Centre in the Square (519) 578-1570 -or- 1-800-265-8977, or by purchasing online.