If there’s one thing about the Ontario Hockey League that continues to ring true, it’s that you can never take a team too lightly no matter where they are in the standings.
The Flint Firebirds (16-29-4-2) utilized an empty net goal and staved off a late Kitchener Rangers comeback attempt to stun the home team 3-2 in front of 6,918 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Friday night.
The Firebirds entered the game trailing the Rangers (36-10-5-0) by 41 points in the standings, but the Firebirds were successful in stymieing many legitimate scoring chances by the Blueshirts. Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn said that by allowing the Firebirds to dictate the way the game was played, they surrendered a chance at an important two points.
“Our passing wasn’t real smart, I didn’t think we handled the puck well from our back end,” Van Ryn said, post-game. “A lot of things didn’t go well for us tonight. We just couldn’t get things going.
“We only put two goals on the board and to win in this league we’ve got to start putting the puck in the net. We didn’t make it hard enough on their goalie tonight and we didn’t execute our game plan.
“We have to play a certain way to be successful, and when we stray from that, this is what happens.”
Rangers captain Ryan MacInnis made a last minute bid to get the Rangers back in the game, scoring with 33 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 3-2. He would finish with two points on the night, but agreed that his team wasn’t able to take control of the game the way they would have liked.
“They’re a hardworking team, and they’re fast,” said the captain. “They would chip it in and work us hard, and tonight they wore us out. We just didn’t play our game.”
It was an uphill battle for the Rangers for most of the night, trailing 1-0 after one and 2-1 after two periods of play. It was just the ninth time this season Kitchener was behind on the scoreboard after 40 minutes, and are now 1-9-0-0 in such circumstance.
Brent Moran (11-20-4-0) earned the win in goal for the Firebirds, allowing two goals on 35 shots he faced. Dawson Carty (10-1-1-0) suffered his first regulation loss of the season, despite an effort of 29 saves.
The Firebirds opened the scoring on a goal by Will Bitten, his 22nd of the season, from Alex Di Carlo and Ryan Moore. It was just the 12th time this season that the Rangers surrendered the game’s opening goal. It was the only goal of the first period, and just the sixth time all season that the Rangers had trailed after one period of play. The Firebirds outshot the Rangers 14-13 in the first period.
The Rangers would square things up 1-1 when Jeremy Bracco inadvertently deflected into the net his 17th goal of the season, from Adam Mascherin and MacInnis, at the six minute mark of the second period.
Just 1:33 after the Bracco goal, Darby Llewellyn was called for slashing, then Connor Hall was whistled down for high sticking a mere 50 seconds after that, giving the Firebirds a lengthy 5-on-3 man advantage in which they would capitalize just 14 seconds in.
Moore registered his 16th of the year and second point of the night with the power play goal, assisted by Mathieu Henderson and Vili Saarijärvi, at 8:37 to put Flint up 2-1. Shots were 12-11 Kitchener in the second period of play for a two period total of 25-25.
With Carty on the Rangers bench in favour of an extra attacker, Cullen Mercer gave the Firebirds a 3-1 lead at the 19:00 minute mark of the third period by scoring into the empty Kitchener goal.
MacInnis would bring the Rangers once again to within one with a power play marker, from Bracco and Miles Liberati with 33.8 seconds remaining, but it was too little too late as the Firebirds would hold on for the 3-2 win.
The home power play goal sees another $100 donation to Clarky’s Kids on behalf of Heffner Toyota.
Final shots were 35-32 Rangers.
The Firebirds were 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Rangers were 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
Alex Peters (3), MacInnis (2) and Moore (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the Game.
Gustaf Franzen, Frank Hora and Brandon Robinson each wore ‘A’s and skated as alternates to captain Ryan MacInnis.
The Rangers return to action tomorrow night, Saturday, February 13th when they travel to Erie to take on the Otters for a 7pm start. It’s the first of three straight road games for the Rangers, who take on the Bulldogs in Hamilton on Family Day Monday the 15th at 2pm, then play their make-up game with the Owen Sound Attack from Tuesday, January 12th on Wednesday, February 17th at 7pm.
Tickets for the Rangers next home game, or any other future Rangers home games are available online at kitchenerrangers.com, by calling Centre in the Square, or through The Aud Box Office.