Kitchener special teams prove too much
by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo courtesy of the Kitchener Rangers
As hot as the Kitchener Rangers were with the man advantage on Sunday, the Soo Greyhounds were as cold as a typical Sault Ste. Marie winter.
The Rangers rode a couple of power-play goals to a 5-3 victory over the Hounds – who were 0-for-6 with the man advantage – in front of 6,604 at the Memorial Auditorium.
“Special teams, for sure, we’re the difference. Kitchener was effective on the power play and we had a lapse on special teams,” said assistant coach Brendan Taylor, whose club fell to 12-7-0-0 in a battle of Western Conference heavyweights. “The power play struggled all afternoon and that killed our momentum.”
Taylor has been running the club this month with John Dean coaching Team Canada White to a gold medal at the World under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“We couldn’t capitalize on our power play and we had two goals against on the PK. I was on the ice for both, so I take a lot of responsibility for that,” added winger Justin Cloutier, whose team outshot the Rangers 35-22, but watched Kitchener improve to 14-5-0-0, the best record in the OHL. “I take a lot of pride in my PK and that doesn’t sit right with me. I have to do better.”
On a day when the home side converted on half of its four, man-advantage opportunities, centre Owen Allard spoke of how the Greyhounds “needed to bear down on our chances.”
That surely included a four-minute power play the Soo enjoyed early in the first period after the Rangers were whistled for a double-minor.
Scoring at that point “would have given us a jump. It would have given us some good momentum,” Allard added.
“Not scoring on that power play frustrated us,” said Taylor.
Five-on-five, the Hounds played well.
Cloutier, who led his team with a pair of goals, said he didn’t think the Rangers “could keep up with us 5-on-5, for the most part.”
“The most frustrating part of the day is we thought we out-played them 5-on-5,” added Taylor, whose club returns home to face Sudbury on Wednesday (7:07 p.m.) at GFL Memorial Gardens. The Rangers took advantage of a Greyhounds turnover to open the scoring 3:49 in.
Matthew Virgilio coughed the puck up and Trent Swick found himself alone in front of Charlie Schenkel.
Swick went high to the glove side to give the home side a 1-0 advantage.
After the Rangers killed off the double minor for high-sticking assessed to Luke Ellinas at 5:27, they used the power play to pad their lead.
Filip Mesar made a slick, cross-ice feed and Carson Rehkopf ripped a one-timer from the right circle. His league-leading 19th goal beat Schenkel, who had little chance, on the blocker side to make it 2-0 at 16:21.
The Greyhounds finally solved Jackson Parsons, who entered the game with back-to-back shutouts, at 14:03 of the middle frame. A Rangers turnover was gobbled up by Connor Clattenburg, who made a quick, cross-ice feed to Cloutier.
The Ottawa native ripped a shot to the glove side to make it 2-1.
But just 1:45 later, Antonino Pugliese restored the Rangers two-goal cushion. Cameron Mercer’s initial shot was stopped by Schenkel, but the rebound bounced into the slot and deflected off of Julian Fantino.
Pugliese grabbed it and rifled one to the glove side to make it 3-1.
“That was definitely a turning point,” Allard said of the third Rangers marker. “It was definitely tough to give up.”
Early in the third, Soo rookie Travis Hayes was whistled for tripping at the 2:00 mark. On the rush, 34-seconds later, Mesar fed Swick in the right circle and he went glove side to make it 4-1.
Just over three minutes later, Mesar beat the Soo defenders to the front of the net, took a pass from Swick and had an easy tap-in to make it 5-1.
Short-handed, Cloutier replied with a slick individual effort at 10:24. He poked the puck away from a Rangers player at the Kitchener blue-line, skated in on a breakaway and went forehand to backhand, beating Parsons on the blocker side.
With the score 5-2 and Schenkel on the bench for a sixth attacker, Allard cut into the Rangers lead by scoring at 17:00.
The Soo had a glorious opportunity with a two-man advantage – and Schenkel on the bench – in the final 1:13, but again couldn’t capitalize.
Swick finished with two goals and an assist for the Rangers, who’ve won five straight. Mesar had a goal and two assists.
The Hounds ended the road trip with a 1-2 record and, following the Sudbury clash, they’re slated to entertain North Bay on Friday.