It was definitely the start to 2017 that the Kitchener Rangers wanted.
The power play was a potent 2-for-3, and Luke Opilka continued to be unrelenting in goal making 33 saves as the Rangers (21-12-1-1) skated to a convincing 5-2 win over divisional rival the Erie Otters (24-8-2-1) in front of 6,939 fans on New Year’s Day at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
Opilka (6-5-0-0), who coming into Sunday’s action had made 75 saves in his last two games, added another 33 this afternoon en route to the win. The St. Louis native wasn’t beaten until the final minute of the second period, and has given head coach Jay McKee and the rest of the Rangers coaching staff plenty to be optimistic about.
Joseph Murdaca (1-1-0-1) was Opilka’s counterpart at the other end of the ice and endured his first regulation loss, allowing five goals on 30 shots.
Connor Bunnaman tallied a pair of power play goals for the home side while Adam Mascherin and Joseph Garreffa each did their part with three-point games, each registering a trio of assists.
Mason Kohn, Greg Meireles (on his 18th birthday) and Darby Llewellyn were the other goal scorers for the Rangers, who appeared to be in full control over the Otters throughout the afternoon affair.
Kohn gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with his sixth of the season, unassisted, at 11:08 of the opening period.
The game seemed poised to head into the first intermission with the Rangers up 1-0, but Mascherin fired a shot on goal which looked to come off a post and bounce, careening up into the air in front of Murdaca.
Bunnaman was on the doorstep and batted the rebound out of mid-air and into the back of the net. The goal was reviewed at length before it was determined that Bunnaman’s stick was not above the crossbar when he came into contact with the puck, so the goal would stand.
The goal came on the power play, from Mascherin and Garreffa, at 19:55 and was Bunnaman’s 15th of the season.
After the first period of play, the Rangers and Otters were tied in shots, 10-10.
In the second period Meireles found himself on the board, giving the Rangers a 3-0 lead just 2:47 into the second period, burying a nice set-up from Mascherin with Garreffa picking up the second assist.
With Kitchener on the man advantage nearing the midway point of the period, Bunnaman struck again – his second power play goal of the afternoon – as he pounced on a rebound in the blue paint to beat Murdaca and make it 4-0 at 8:28. Mascherin and Garreffa again picked up the assists – their third points each of the afternoon.
The Rangers were called for a hooking minor, then for cross-checking, giving the Otters a 45-second 5-on-3 man advantage. The Rangers successfully killed off the 5-on-3, but Opilka’s shutout bid was broken with just five seconds remaining in the second penalty as Allan McShane, from Christian Girhiny and TJ Fergus, made it 4-1 at 18:59.
As the clock wound down in the second period of play, Mascherin sprung Garreffa with a lead pass from just behind the red line and Garreffa skated in on a breakaway, but was hauled down by an Erie defender. A penalty shot was awarded with less than a second left on the clock, but the winger was turned aside by Murdaca.
Second period shots on goal were 14-13 Erie for a two-period total of 24-23.
The Rangers lead was cut to 4-2 when Jordan Sambrook registered his sixth of the season, from Gera Poddubnyi and Mitchell Byrne at 4:33 of the third period.
Llewellyn restored the three-goal lead for the Rangers as he notched his eighth goal of the season, from Jake Henderson, at 12:29 to round out the game’s scoring.
Final shots on goal were 35-30 Erie, including 11-6 in the third.
Kitchener would finish 2-for-3 on the power play, while Erie was 1-for-5 on the man advantage.
With four successful penalty kills, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $40 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally for a running total this season of $1,140 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Luke Opilka (KIT) (3), Adam Mascherin (KIT) (2) and Connor Bunnaman (KIT) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
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 Tuesday, January 3rd when they travel down Highway 7 to take on a divisional rival for the third straight game – the Guelph Storm – for a 7pm start. They return to the Aud Friday, January 6th when they host the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at 7:30pm.
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.