Both the teddy bears and the hats were flying onto the ice on Tuesday night at the Aud.
Connor Bunnaman scored the coveted ‘Teddy Bear Goal’ at 12:51 of the first period sending 10,190 bears to the ice and it was just the beginning, as the Kitchener Rangers would come away with a 5-2 win over the Guelph Storm in front of 7,272 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
The win improves the Rangers to 22-3-3-0 while propelling them to their fourth straight win. The Storm suffered their 12th straight defeat and saw their record drop to 2-25-1-0. Luke Opilka earned his 17th win of the season for the Rangers, making 21 saves.
Bunnaman’s teddy bear goal was just the beginning of the Rangers offence as a whole, which produced five goals on 46 shots on goal on starting Storm goaltender Justin Nichols.
But it was also just the beginning of Bunnaman’s individual goal production on the night, as the Guelph native went on to tally his first career OHL hat trick against his hometown team, and his first goal since October 29th.
“It feels really good,” said Bunnaman. “[The goal] was a long time coming, so it’s good to get one, but even better to get the other two. The teddy bear goal was exciting because of all the charity it helps, so it’s great.”
It wasn’t lost on Bunnaman that the opponent he scored on is his hometown team – a team he’s had success against in earlier meetings this season.
“I love playing against the Storm,” said the 17-year-old centreman. “It’s nice to feel confident going into a game against a particular team because you’re getting good bounces out there, and for whatever reason it seems like that’s been happening for me against [the Storm].”
Teammate Gustaf Franzen, who finished the game with a pair of assists, was eager to compliment his fellow centreman’s success.
“He played an awesome game tonight,” said Franzen. “I’m happy for him. We all are. It’s nice to see him have a break-out game finally. He’s been working hard for a while now.”
Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn echoed the sentiments of Franzen and was impressed by the hard work of his second year forward.
“He’s a kid that works hard every day and plays hard every game. Those are things you like to see happen for kids who work hard. I’m happy for him that he got rewarded tonight on the scoresheet.”
Bunnaman’s teddy bear goal was assisted by Franzen and Miles Liberati, and was the lone goal of the opening period which saw the Rangers outshoot the Storm 15-12.
Ryan MacInnis found Mason Kohn with a pretty pass to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead on the power play at the 2:48 mark of the second period, with the second assist going to Jeremy Bracco. Nick Magyar then put the home team up 3-0 with his first goal since returning to the lineup on November 20th after missing 18 games due to injury. The goal was assisted by Jacob Cascagnette and Nick McHugh at 4:10.
Bunnaman’s second goal of the night would close out second period scoring just 2:19 later as he gave Kitchener a 4-0 lead from Adam Mascherin and Dylan Di Perna at 6:29. Shots were 35-17 in favour of the Rangers through 40 minutes of play.
Bunnaman would complete the hat trick just 1:22 into the third period, his ninth goal of the season, on the power play from Franzen and Dmitrii Sergeev giving the Rangers a 5-0 lead.
The Storm got on the board at the 11:39 mark while on the power play to spoil the shutout bid for Opilka, assisted by Garrett McFadden and C.J. Garcia, then they would add another as Brock Phillips would tally his first career OHL goal with 3:44 remaining to round out the 5-2 affair.
Final shots on goal were 46-23 in favour of the Rangers.
The Storm managed one of their two goals while on the power play, finishing 1-for-5 with the extra attacker. The Rangers were 2-for-5 with the man advantage.
The 10,190 bears collected during the Teddy Bear Toss was a new all-time high for the Rangers, surpassing the former all-time high of 9,882 bears collected last year. Including tonight’s bears, the Rangers have now collected 121,744 bears over 21 seasons of Teddy Bear Toss games.
MacInnis, Franzen and Frank Hora each wore ‘A’s and skated as alternate captains for the game.
Mascherin (3), Franzen (2) and Bunnaman (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the Game.
The Rangers are back in action on Friday, December 11th when they host the Owen Sound Attack at 7:30pm.
Tickets for Friday, and other future Rangers home games, are available online at kitchenerrangers.com, by calling Centre in the Square, or through The Aud Box Office.