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Culina backstops Rangers to victory with first career shutout

 

Three even strength goals, a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot goal AND a shutout.

The Kitchener Rangers did it all on Wednesday night in St. Catharines.

Mario Culina made 34 saves and earned his first career Ontario Hockey League shutout to help guide the Kitchener Rangers (28-14-2-0) to a 6-0 victory over the Niagara IceDogs (24-13-3-2) in front of 4,937 fans at the Meridian Centre.

Culina was steady, focused and acrobatic in the milestone victory; his third since joining the Blueshirts and fifth win of the season, improving his record to (5-5-2-0).

His counterpart Stephen Dhillon (21-9-2-2) suffered the loss, surrendering five goals on 19 shots through the first 40 minutes before being replaced at the onset of the third period by Colton Incze, who allowed a single goal on 13 shots.

It was the second shutout victory by the Rangers this season, both coming in the month of January after a 3-0 win over the Barrie Colts at The Aud on January 2. It was also the second time the IceDogs were blanked this season, the first a 1-0 overtime loss to the Ottawa 67’s back on October 21.

A victory in itself was the success of the Rangers penalty killers, who were forced to face seven Niagara power play opportunities, killing all seven.

While Culina’s 34 save performance was crucial, the Blueshirts also got key contributions from Riley Damiani with a goal and two assists (+3, three shots) and Adam Mascherin with his 30th goal of the season and an assist (+1, four shots).

Kole Sherwood scored on a first period penalty shot which put the Rangers up 2-0. He would finish the game a +2 with four shots on goal. Nick McHugh (shorthanded), Givani Smith and Eric Guest also etched the scoresheet for the visitors, while Austin McEneny chipped in a pair of assists.

The Blueshirts never relinquished control of the game, taking an early lead then maintaining a 3-0 edge after one period of play, and 5-0 after two.

It was the first meeting for a number of Rangers against former teammate Elijah Roberts who was acquired by the IceDogs in the offseason. His squad had won three straight and eight of their last 10 games before tonight’s loss to Kitchener.

The night’s offence began less than a minute into the action as Smith scored his third as a Ranger and 11th goal of the season, assisted by McEneny, just 44 seconds in.

Later in the period, Sherwood was sprung into the offensive zone but hauled down by Niagara defender Liam Ham. On the ensuing penalty shot he capitalized, notching his 16th of the season at 8:04 to give Kitchener a 2-0 lead.

Just two minutes later it was 3-0 Rangers as Damiani tallied his 15th goal of the campaign to give the visitors a 3-0 edge, from Mascherin and McEneny, at 10:05.

Shots on goal in the first period of play favoured Kitchener, 10-9.

The Rangers made it 4-0 on a heads-up play by Giovanni Vallati who corralled the puck in the Niagara zone near the top of the left circle, but instead of taking a shot made a passing play to the front of the net that found the stick of Damiani. Damiani’s tip of the puck found McHugh alone at the right side of the net, who buried his eighth of the season just 1:18 into the middle frame.

With under five minutes to play in the second period and the IceDogs with the man advantage, Damiani skated through the neutral zone with possession and was quickly accompanied by a speedy Guest. Damiani fed Guest, who potted his third of the season, shorthanded, at 15:52 to make it 5-0 Kitchener with Logan Stanley earning the secondary assist.

Shots on goal after 40 minutes of play this time leaned Niagara’s way, 23-19.

With the Blueshirts on a four-minute man advantage after Vallati took a stick to the face, Mascherin flexed his muscle – and red-hot shot – to give Incze an unfriendly welcome to the game at the 4:33 mark of the third period, extending their lead to 6-0. Joseph Garreffa and Adam Liška earned the helpers on the goal, which rounded out the game’s scoring.

Final shots on goal were 34-32, Niagara.

Kitchener was 1-for-3 on the power play while Niagara was 0-for-7 on the man advantage.

Adam Mascherin (KIT) (3), Riley Damiani (KIT) (2), and Mario Culina (KIT) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.

Givani Smith, Adam Mascherin, and Logan Stanley each wore an “A” and skated as alternates to Rangers’ captain Connor Bunnaman.

The Rangers are back home at The Aud on Friday, January 19 when they host the Erie Otters at 7:30pm.

Regular season tickets to all Kitchener Rangers home games are $23.00 each for adults, $19.00 for children 12 and under including HST, and are available in person or by calling the Activa Box Office at The Aud, from Centre in the Square (519) 578-1570 -or- 1-800-265-8977, or by purchasing online.

Join in the conversation on all things Rangers by using #RaiseTheShield. You can follow the Rangers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @OHLRangers.

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