Well, it wasn’t the homecoming either Frank Hora or Luke Opilka were hoping for.
Hunter Holmes’ second goal of the season broke open a 2-2 tie with 7:05 to play in the third period as the Flint Firebirds defeated the Kitchener Rangers 3-2 in front of 6,901 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Friday night.
It was the first game of the regular season for both Hora and Opilka, and the first start in goal for Opilka dating back to March 24 of last season after recovering from offseason surgery. The netminder looked fresh, making 26 saves although being saddled with the loss.
Garrett Forrest picked up the win in goal for the Firebirds, making 32 saves on 34 Rangers shots.
The loss is the first in regulation for the Rangers (10-5-0-1) on home ice this season, while the Firebirds registered just their third road win to improve to 9-7-0-1 on the year.
Adam Mascherin tallied a goal and an assist for the home side, while Jeremy Bracco’s season-long point streak continued as he added an assist on Mascherin’s game-opening goal in the first period. Bracco sees his point total improve to nine goals and 26 points through his first 13 games.
The Rangers competed hard despite an extremely short bench. With players away at international competition and dealing with injury, the Blueshirts dressed just 10 forwards and five natural defencemen.
The offence was limited through most of the game’s opening period until Mascherin buried a rebound from a Bracco shot into a wide-open Firebirds net, making it 1-0 with just 3:28 to play in the frame. Joseph Garreffa picked up the second assist on the lone goal of the period. Shots were 11-9 Flint through the first 20 minutes of play.
With the Rangers on the power play the puck was misplayed in their own zone and recovered by the Firebirds, who tied the game 1-1 off the stick of Ryan Moore, a shorthanded goal from Nick Caamano at 11:57.
Before the period was out the Firebirds would take the lead, as Kole Sherwood made it a 2-1 game, from Moore and Caamano, at 17:51.
With 26 seconds to play in the second period Dawson Carty temporarily took over the Rangers crease, as Opilka experienced an equipment issue and retreated to the dressing room. Opilka would return to the Rangers net to start the third.
Second period shots were 12-11 Kitchener, for a total of 22-21 Flint through 40 minutes.
Midway through the third the Rangers would tie the game 2-2 as Alex Peterson tallied his first career OHL goal, a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Forrest from Mason Kohn and Mascherin, at 9:02.
Holmes’ second goal of the season gave the Firebirds back the lead, 3-2, at 12:55 from Jalen Smereck and Fedor Gordeev after a goal-mouth scramble to the left of Opilka, which closed out the game scoring.
Final shots on goal were 34-29 Kitchener, including 13-7 Rangers in the third.
Kitchener and Flint were both 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
With three successful penalty kills, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $30 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally for a running total this season of $580 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids In Gear.
Moore (FLT) (3), Meireles (KIT) (2), and Forrest (FLT) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
Frank Hora, Darby Llewellyn and Joseph Garreffa each wore “A’s” and skated as alternate captains for the Rangers.
The Rangers close out the weekend with a trip to Erie tomorrow, Saturday, November 5, to take on the Midwest Division rival Otters at 7pm.
They return home to the Aud a week from tonight, Friday, November 11 when they host the Owen Sound Attack for their annual Remembrance Day Game at 7:30pm. Following the game the commemorative jerseys worn that night by the Rangers will be live auctioned in the Subscribers Lounge of the Auditorium.
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.