It was a match-up that captivated the attention of not only fans of the two teams playing, but of all junior hockey fans across the league – maybe even the CHL.
The Kitchener Rangers just wish it would have ended in a different result.
Alex DeBrincat scored his 29th goal of the season into an empty net and the Rangers weren’t able to climb all the way back, as the Erie Otters came away with a 3-2 win in front of 4,415 fans at the Erie Insurance Arena on Thursday night.
The win improved the Otters to 20-3-1-0 on the season, and 2-0-0-0 on the season in their meetings with the Rangers (18-3-3-0), following the teams prior meeting on November 15th which resulted in a 5-2 win in favour of the Otters.
As opposed to their previous match-up where special teams was very much a factor in the somewhat high-scoring affair, Thursday saw limited opportunities with the man advantage, and displayed the strengths of two of the OHL’s top goaltenders.
Maybe most impressive was the play of Rangers goaltender Luke Opilka (13-3-2-0), who despite being barraged with 38 shots, managed to come away with 36 saves – many in spectacular fashion. Otters’ overager Devin Williams picked up his 17th win of the season, allowing two goals on the 22 shots he faced.
Adam Mascherin, who scored with 1:14 remaining in the third period with Opilka pulled from the Rangers net to cut the Erie lead to 3-2, said his team may not be used to losing, but they know well enough it’s something they sure don’t like.
“It isn’t a very good feeling right now, obviously, losing two in a row to these guys,” said Mascherin. “But I thought we played a decent effort through 60 minutes and we’re gonna try to build off of what we did right, correct what we did wrong, and look ahead to the rest of the weekend.
“We haven’t lost many games, but when we have, it doesn’t feel good. We just hate feeling that way,” he added. “We don’t want to lose any game. Even tonight when we were down, all the guys on the bench had the mentality that we could come back and win. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way this time.”
As frustrating as the loss may have been for the Rangers, the resiliency the team has shown in theiroff-ice demeanor should be seen as something of a welcome sight to both the fans, and those within the walls of the dressing room.
“The game’s not over till it’s over – that’s our mindset,” Mascherin stated. “You don’t want to have to be in that mindset often, but when you are, you never back down.”
Ryan MacInnis opened the game’s scoring with his 18th goal of the season with just 31.4 seconds remaining in the opening frame, assisted by Mascherin. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, despite being outshot by the hosts 12- 6 in the first 20 minutes of play.
Erie would tie things up at the 8:16 mark of the second period after Opilka made two initial stops on the Otters, but it was Kyle Maksimovich who capitalized on a third opportunity while alone in the slot to even the score at 1-1 from Taylor Raddysh and DeBrincat.
Jakob Mayenschein gave Erie the lead at 15:44 of the second from Erik Cernak and Patrick Fellows to send the game to the second intermission with the Otters up 2-1.
It would remain a one-goal game until DeBrincat expanded on his league lead in goals with Opilka pulled at 17:54 from both Raddysh brothers to give the Otters a 3-1 lead with 2:06 to play.
Mascherin registered his eleventh goal of the season with the extra attacker to bring the Rangers to within one and make it a 3-2 game with 1:14 remaining, assisted by Jacob Cascagnette, but it was as close as the Rangers would come as they dropped just their third game in regulation of the season.
As mentioned, special teams were at a premium on the night as the Rangers went without an opportunity with the man advantage, while the Otters had just one power play opportunity and failed to score.
Rangers forward David Miller returned to the lineup after missing 16 games due to a lower body injury sustained on October 16th at home versus the Owen Sound Attack.
MacInnis, Brandon Robinson and Frank Hora each wore ‘A’s and skated as alternate captains for the game.
Maksimovich (3), Opilka (2) and DeBrincat (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the Game.
The Rangers are back in action tomorrow night, Friday, November 27th, as they host the Barrie Colts at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex at 7:30pm. They round out the weekend at home when they welcome the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday, November 29th for a 2pm puck drop.
Tickets for the Rangers next home game are available online at kitchenerrangers.com, by calling Centre in the Square, or through The Aud Box Office.