One of the hottest teams since the calendar turned to 2020, the Kitchener Rangers have found the win column seven times and picked up two overtime points in nine total outings in the new year to earn a spot at number ten in the latest Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.
Sporting a 27-11-4-2 showing and 60 points, the Rangers have climbed to first place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference and make their official Top-10 debut following a successful three-in-three weekend in which the club came away with a win versus the North Bay Battalion plus a pair against the rival Guelph Storm.
“It has been a wild ride,” Rangers general manager and interim head coach Mike McKenzie told Josh Brown of the Waterloo Region Record. “We have something good going. The guys are confident and having fun. Winning is fun.”
Surrendering a lone regulation loss in 23 games since McKenzie took over behind the bench in late November, the coach noted the biggest shift has been the compete level from his players.
“They’re starting to figure out what hard work can do,” said McKenzie per Brown. “You see it on the bench. When a guy is not working, he stands out like a sore thumb. It’s at the point where it’s self-correcting. I don’t need to say anything. The guys know and you don’t want to be that one out of the group that isn’t giving their best effort.”
While it’s a pack-like mentality helping the Rangers find success this season, leading the way offensively is co-captain and Dallas Stars prospect Riley Damiani with 55 points counting 20 goals and 35 assists over 43 appearances. Registering at least one point in nine of his past 10 outings, Damiani has been a primary driver in his club’s rise up the standings. In all, on 16 occasions this season, Damiani has come away with a multi-point effort, including a season-high two-goal, two-assist showing in a road win versus the Midwest Division rival London Knights in late December.
While Damiani is one of six NHL drafted prospects on the Rangers roster, other members from that group make up part of the club’s dangerous collection of secondary scorers including fellow co-captain and Florida Panthers draft pick Greg Meireles who after topping the charts in Kitchener last season sits third in team scoring this year with 22 goals and 23 assists for 45 points through 34 contests. Meanwhile, fellow Panthers prospect and trade deadline addition Serron Noel has been an intriguing pick up for the Rangers as he has recorded two assists and helped his new club secure 11 of 12 points since his arrival, and overage forward Jonathan Yantsis continues to fill the net following a breakout 50-goal season a year ago as he leads the club with 31 tallies through 44 games.
There is also no shortage of skill on the back end when it comes to the Rangers as the club has seen immediate success from 19-year-old Swedish defender Axel Bergkvist, an Arizona Coyotes prospect and the 95th pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft who has impressed in his first season playing on North American ice as he has registered 35 points counting four goals and 31 assists through 44 games, good for 10th in scoring among all OHL defencemen.
The Rangers’ blue line also features another standout in Donovan Sebrango, a recent participant in the 2020 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and the 59th ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Report. Currently riding a four-game point streak, Sebrango is on a pace for a career year offensively as he has tallied three goals and 17 assists across 37 appearances this season. His 20 points puts him in a tie with last year’s Top Prospects Game representative Michael Vukojevic who later became a third round pick of the New Jersey Devils.
Key to success for any squad is solid play between the pipes and the Rangers have that in Los Angeles Kings draft pick Jacob Ingham, who ranks third among all OHL goaltenders with 21 wins in 27 appearances on the season coupled with an incredible .925 save percentage that is untouched among netminders who have suited up in as many contests.
Seeing just a single regulation loss in his past 17 outings, Ingham has racked up the wins this season and now looks to continue his outstanding play over the weekend as the Rangers host the Sarnia Sting on Friday before heading to Mississauga on Sunday for a date with the Steelheads.