Nick Betz scored and added two assists, and Jordan Sambrook scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals as the Erie Otters came from behind to defeat the Kitchener Rangers 5-3 in front of 7,324 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Friday night.
Darby Llewellyn led the way offensively for the Rangers (30-8-4-0) with a pair of goals, including one shorthanded. Despite taking multiple positives away from the way they played, it was no doubt a missed opportunity for the Blueshirts to both gain ground on the league-leading Otters (37-6-1-0), as well as inch closer to the London Knights, who fell to the Peterborough Petes tonight by a score of 4-2.
Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn liked his team’s compete level, especially when the two teams were playing at even-strength, but the Otters power play was a definite factor in handing the Rangers a second straight loss on home ice for the first time this season.
“Our PK bounced back after they went 2-for-2 in the first, but it’s tough,” said Van Ryn. “We knew we couldn’t give them many power plays, but I don’t want to say much more about that.
“I thought we were the better team 5-on-5, but we needed to score on our chances when we got them.”
One player who did capitalize on a long-awaited opportunity was defenceman Connor Hall. After missing time due to injury over the last two months, the 17-year-old Cambridge native not only played a solid game with a likely career-high in minutes logged, but he also scored his first OHL goal, in this his 21st career game over parts of two seasons.
“It was good to get the first one out of the way,” said Hall, post-game. “It wasn’t the prettiest, but I’m just happy I finally got the first one.”
Rangers captain Ryan MacInnis also etched his name onto the scoresheet with an assist, now registering at least a point in 19 straight games (11-20=31).
Llewellyn, who has now registered four points in his last four games, says the Rangers knew heading into tonight that the game would be used as a measuring stick in terms of how they are viewed in comparison to other dominant teams in the OHL.
“That’s kinda what we’re trying to build towards, is playing and winning those games that have a playoff-like mentality,” Llewellyn said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll take the positives from tonight and go from there.”
Llewellyn opened the game’s scoring just 1:28 into the first period with his 13th goal of the season from MacInnis and Dylan Di Perna. The Otters would tie the game 1-1 with a Kyle Maksimovich power play goal at 6:14, assistsed by Dylan Strome and Travis Dermott. Erie would again go on the man advantage and would again capitalize, taking a 2-1 lead at 8:17 on Taylor Raddysh’s 17th goal of the season from Strome and Alex DeBrincat.
The Rangers wouldn’t trail for long, however, as Hall’s first OHL goal came at 9:38 from Gustaf Franzen and Brandon Robinson, tying the game 2-2 and rounding out the scoring in the opening frame. Shots were 11-10 Kitchener through the first 20 minutes.
The lone goal of the second period was the second of the game for Llewellyn. In alone on a shorthanded breakaway, he was hauled down by an Erie defender, but managed to help guide the puck over the line and past Williams. After a short review the goal would stand, and give the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 10:47. Shots were 12-8 Kitchener in the second, and 23-18 in favour of the Blueshirts through 40 minutes.
The Otters didn’t waste any time scoring the equalizer to start the third though, as Sambrook made it a 3-3 game just 41 seconds into the third period, assisted by Kyle Pettit and Betz. Sambrook would then give the Otters the lead at 6:53 from Brett Neumann and Betz. With goaltender Luke Opilka on the Rangers bench in favour of an extra attacker, Betz would register his third point of the night with an empty net goal, solidifying the 5-3 win.
Shots were 15-13 Kitchener in the third period, and 38-31 overall.
Opilka (20-5-2-0) took the loss, stopping 26 of 31 shots he faced. Devin Williams earned the win, allowing three goals on 38 shots.
The Otters would finish 2-for-5 on the power play, while the Rangers were held scoreless on just two opportunities with the man advantage, but did register the shorthanded marker in the second period.
Strome (3), Llewellyn (2) and Sambrook (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 when they travel to Owen Sound to take on the Attack for a 7pm start. They finish the weekend back here at the Aud when they play host to the Flint Firebirds at 2pm.
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.