“It was embarrassing. I love those kids in that room, but it’s the truth. It’s embarrassing. There’s not much else to say.”
Those were the sentiments of Kitchener Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn after the Rangers surrendered five third-period goals and fell 8-2 to the London Knights in front of 7,261 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Tuesday night.
It was the fifth win in a row for the Knights (47-13-2-1), who led the Rangers (40-15-5-2) 2-1 after one period of play, and 3-2 after two.
The London offence was powered by Aaron Berisha who, after scoring his 40th goal of the season, added three more to finish the night with a five point effort (4G, 1A).
Special teams were the difference maker, as the league’s highest ranked team on the power play padded their stats by going 4-for-7 on the night with the man advantage.
The Knights win now gives them 97 points and ties them with the Erie Otters (48-13-1-0) in points, yet the Otters remain in first place with one more win.
The Rangers dropped their fourth straight game for the first time this season, and can now only hope to finish as high as third place in the Western Conference standings, as they cannot mathematically catch the Otters/Knights for first place, and cannot finish second as it automatically goes to the leader of the West Division.
Van Ryn was noticeably disappointed when assessing what changed in terms of his teams play through the first 40 minutes, compared to that of the last 20.
“It was two different teams, I’ll tell you that much,” Van Ryn said. “They got up on us and I didn’t like our pushback. It’s something we’ve got to change.
“The effort in the third period just wasn’t good enough. We were good earlier in the game, then we got down and didn’t come back. We have to become mentally tough and have a desire to compete.
“We know the fans in Kitchener-Waterloo can take a loss, but only if we compete. We need to find better ways of doing that.”
Overage forward Brandon Robinson agreed with his coach’s assessment, conceding the fact that they need to find ways to regroup before Friday as they play out the remainder of their regular season schedule and prepare for the post-season.
“They got a couple quick ones early [in the third period] and took the wind out of our sails. We just gave up. It’s embarrassing.
“We have to regroup and put this behind us and get back to work and be ready for Friday.”
Tyler Parsons earned the win in the second of the back-to-back games between the two division rivals, stopping 22 of 24 shots he faced to improve to 34-8-2-1.
Luke Opilka got the start in goal for the Rangers and was dealt the loss, making 18 of 23 saves before being replaced by Dawson Carty, who stopped four of seven shots since joining the game at the 45 second mark of the third period.
It was the Rangers who opened the game’s scoring when Darby Llewellyn cashed in on a shorthanded breakaway for his 19th goal of the season, unassisted, at 13:00 of the first period.
Berisha would tally his 40th of the season, assisted by Max Jones and Cliff Pu at 17:46, tying the game 1-1. The Knights would take the lead just 20 seconds later as Pu capitalized on a Rangers miscue to go up 2-1, unassisted, at 18:06.
After the first period of play, shots were even at 11-11.
The Rangers would even things up again less than a minute into the second period, as Gustaf Franzen registered his 14th goal of the season, from Connor Bunnaman and Connor Hall at the 57 second mark.
The Knights once again reclaimed the lead on the power play, Mitch Marner’s 39th goal of the season, from Olli Juolevi and Christian Dvorak, at 10:39 to make it a 3-2 game.
London forward Kole Sherwood was assessed a match penalty for slew-footing and ejected from the game at the 12:12 minute mark of the middle frame. The Rangers were awarded a five-minute man advantage, but failed to capitalize.
Shots were 10-9 London in the second period of play, for a two-period total of 21-20.
With the Rangers on the penalty kill to start the third period, Berisha notched his second goal of the game, from Marner and Juolevi, to make it 4-2 at the 20 second mark. Just 25 seconds later he completed the hat trick, from Tkachuk and Dvorak at 45 seconds of the third period to make it 6-2, effectively ending the night of Opilka in favour of Carty.
The Knights would take a 6-2 lead at 5:21 on a goal by Chad Heffernan, from Daniel Bernhardt and Berisha, then opened it up to 7-2 at 8:05 with Brandon Crawley’s sixth of the season, assisted by JJ Piccinich and Owen MacDonald.
The final goal of the game would come on the power play at 18:47 as Berisha scored his fourth of the night, from Piccinich and MacDonald, to make it 8-2.
Third period shots on goal were 9-6 London, and 30-24 overall.
The Knights finished 4-for-7 on the power play, while the Rangers were 0-for-5.
Crawley (3), Marner (2) and Berisha (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the Game.
Darby Llewellyn, Gustaf Franzen and Brandon Robinson each wore ‘A’s and skated as alternate captains to Rangers captain Ryan MacInnis.
The Rangers are back in action on Friday, March 11th when they host the Owen Sound Attack for a 7:30pm start.
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.
1st – KIT Darby Llewellyn (19) (unassisted), 13:00 (SH)
1st – LDN Aaron Berisha (40) (Max Jones, Cliff Pu), 17:46
1st – LDN Cliff Pu (11) (unassisted), 18:06
2nd – KIT Gustaf Franzen (14) (Connor Bunnaman, Connor Hall), 0:57
2nd – LDN Mitchell Marner (39) (Olli Juolevi, Christian Dvorak), 10:39 (PP)
3rd – LDN Aaron Berisha (41) (Mitchell Marner, Olli Juolevi), 0:20 (PP)
3rd – LDN Aaron Berisha (42) (Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak), 0:45 (PP)
3rd – LDN Chad Heffernan (5) (Daniel Bernhardt, Aaron Berisha), 5:21
3rd – LDN Brandon Crawley (6) (JJ Piccinich, Owen MacDonald), 8:05
3rd – LDN Aaron Berisha (43) (JJ Piccinich, Owen MacDonald), 18:47 (PP)