Connor Bunnaman’s goal at 1:27 of the second period sent the teddy bears flying to the ice on Wednesday night, but it was the lone goal of the game for the Kitchener Rangers (17-9-1-1), who fell to the Mississauga Steelheads (8-14-3-3) 5-1 in front of 7,345 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
It was the 22nd annual Teddy Bear Toss game for the Rangers, who this year saw a record high of 10,527 new and gently loved stuffed animals make their way to the ice after Bunnaman’s 14th of the season got the Rangers on the board, which then tied the game 1-1.
Bunnaman becomes just the second Rangers player to score multiple teddy bear goals for the club, as Jason Akeson also did it in 2008 and 2009. Bunnaman and Akeson also each scored their goals in back-to-back seasons.
The running total of number of bears collected through the 22 years the Rangers have hosted the Teddy Bear Toss game increases to 132,271. The bears are made available at 6am the morning following the game and are ready for pick up and distribution by local charities in the community.
Jeremy Bracco picked up the primary assist on Bunnaman’s lone tally for the Rangers on the night, which increased his season-long point scoring streak to 25 games and 50 points (16G, 34A).
Adam Mascherin, with the second assist, maintains points in every game he’s played at home this season, and now has 21 points (12G, 9A) on a 13-game point streak.
A huge storyline on Wednesday night was the Rangers power play, which was silenced by going 0-for-7.
When the Rangers did generate good offensive opportunities Matthew Mancina (5-10-1-2) was often there to shut the door, as the Mississauga netminder made a handful of stellar saves and finished the night turning aside 30 of 31 shots.
Luke Opilka (3-3-0-0) was dealt the loss, surrendering four goals on 24 shots.
The Steelheads took a 1-0 lead near the end of the opening period, as Kitchener native Nathan Bastian capitalized on a goal mouth scramble with the Steelheads on the power play. Vili Saarijarvi and Owen Tippett earned the assists on the goal at 18:18 to close out the first period scoring.
Shots in the first period were 10-8 in favour of the Steelheads.
Bunnaman’s teddy bear tally came just 1:27 into the second period, after a nice tip in front of Mancina redirected a Bracco shot home. Mascherin picked up the second assist.
The Steelheads regained the lead midway through the period, as Scoley Dow tallied just his second goal of the season – from Michael Little and Stefan LeBlanc – at 10:41 to make it a 2-1 game.
Before the period was out Mississauga would add another, as Brendan Harrogate managed to deflect a puck past Opilka and give the Steelheads a 3-1 lead. Spencer Watson earned his first point in a Mississauga uniform, while another Kitchener native, Nicolas Hague, picked up the other assist.
Second period shots on goal were 9-7 Kitchener, for a two-period total of 17-17.
The majority of the third period remained scoreless, that is until inside the final three minutes of play. Saarijarvi made it a 4-1 game with his fourth of the season, unassisted into an empty net, at 17:28.
With Opilka back in the Rangers goal the Steelheads struck again just 12 seconds later, as Harrogate scored his second of the game and 15th of the season, unassisted, at 17:40 to make it 5-1 and close out the scoring.
Third period shots on goal were 14-8 Kitchener for a game total of 31-25 in favour of the Blueshirts.
Mississauga went 1-for-2 on the power play, while Kitchener was completely shut down on the man advantage, going 0-for-7.
With one successful penalty kill, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $10 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally for a running total this season of $890 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Bunnaman (KIT) (3), Bastian (MIS) (2), and Mancina (MIS) (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 against another eastern conference opponent when they host the Kingston Frontenacs at the Aud on Friday, December 9 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.