The Kitchener Rangers started the unofficial second half of the Ontario Hockey League season off on the right foot, registering their 20th win of the campaign by handing the Windsor Spitfires a 2-1 loss at the WFCU Centre in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,715.
It was the first home game for the Spitfires since November 18th after the team played 13 straight games on the road, as their home facility hosted the 2016 FINA World Swimming Championships.
The Rangers (20-11-1-1) served the Spitfires (22-7-4-1) just their second regulation loss at home this season. The hosts entered the game with an 11-1-1-0 record at the WFCU Centre; their only other loss on home ice coming back on September 29th to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, 3-1, in their second home game of the season.
It was the first meeting between the two clubs since the opening round of the last season’s playoffs which saw the Rangers claim the best-of-seven series by a 4-1 margin.
The game’s First Star differed from the official scoresheet to the game’s television broadcast, but one could argue that either was a stellar choice, as a pair of St. Louis friends and teammates certainly left their impression on the Rangers’ win.
Jake Henderson played a 200-foot game, executing well at both ends of the ice. From blocking shots defensively, to scoring the game winner in the second period, he spoke after the game on how the resiliency of his team Thursday night could prove to be a catalyst in the team’s success throughout the rest of the regular season.
“I think a few people would say we should have lost that game, especially with the way the shots were in the third period,” said Henderson, who also picked up an assist on the Rangers’ first goal of the night. “But you can’t only believe in stats.
“We came out strong and hard, and after coming away with a win over a team like Windsor, maybe we showed some people that we can be a contender as well.”
Luke Opilka (5-4-0-0) was also an integral piece to the Rangers win, stopping all 18 shots he faced – in the third period alone. Rangers head coach Jay McKee agreed with 570 News post-game that Opilka was certainly on his game.
“He was huge for us,” stated McKee. “[Opi] tonight pretty much stole the show. The game plan going into the third period was to play for the next goal, but Windsor took it to us. But again, [Opi] stood on his head and he certainly won it for us in the third.”
Opilka would turn aside 34 of a total 35 shots he faced, while his Windsor counterpart, Michael DiPietro (16-5-4-0), took the loss after allowing two goals on 18 shots.
Adam Mascherin gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 8:38 of the first period when Henderson found him all alone on the doorstep, giving the winger his 25th goal of the season. Giovanni Vallati picked up the second assist.
It was the lone goal of the first period, as the Spitfires trailed 1-0 on the score sheet but led in shots 9-6.
Henderson tallied his fifth of the season after burying a pass from Nick McHugh just above the hash marks towards the top of the circle to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Frank Hora earned the second helper on the goal, which came just 2:52 into the middle frame.
With the Rangers on the man advantage it was the Spitfires who would capitalize, as Jeremiah Addison notched his 14th of the season with a shorthanded marker, cutting the Kitchener lead to 2-1 at 15:13, assisted by Logan Brown.
Second period shots on goal favoured the Blueshirts 10-8, for a two-period total of 17-16 for the Spitfires.
It was a scoreless third period despite the fact the Spitfires pulled DiPietro with 1:46 to play in hopes of scoring the equalizer, but it was to no avail. Opilka would remain solid in goal, coming up with timely and sound saves to preserve the win for the visitors.
Final shots on goal were 35-18 Windsor, including 18-2 Spitfires in the third period of play.
Kitchener was 0-for-2 on the power play, while Windsor went 0-for-3 with 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 $1,050 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Jeremiah Addison (WSR) (3), Adam Mascherin (KIT) (2) and Luke Opilka (KIT) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
Dylan Di Perna and Darby Llewellyn each wore an “A” and skated as alternates to Rangers captain Frank Hora.
The Rangers return home to the Aud tomorrow night, Friday, December 30 when they host Midwest division rival, the Owen Sound Attack, at 7:30pm.
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.