Kitchener’s bid to play weekend spoiler falls short against London
Some players in ‘awe’ of London Knights, Kitchener Rangers coach says
KITCHENER — It was shaping up to be the best weekend of the season.
The Kitchener Rangers were coming off a stunning 4-3 overtime win against the mighty Guelph Storm, who spent the past few weeks stacking their roster for a run at an Ontario Hockey League title.
And there the Blueshirts were, up 1-0 on the western conference-leading London Knights after the first period in Sunday’s matinee at the Aud.
Taking four points from arguably the two best clubs in the league would be a massive confidence boost, key in the standings and easily qualify as the most impressive two-game stand on the Rangers’ schedule to date.
But there is a reason London rules the west.
The Knights reminded their Midwest Division foes why they are perennial contenders, by exploding for four goals in the second period and a 5-2 victory over the Rangers.
“It’s really important to respect your opponent and go out there and be focused and play the right way. But when you give them too much respect, you sit on your heels and watch a little bit you’re not going to give yourself a chance to win,” said Kitchener coach Jay McKee.
“They’re (London) one of the top teams in Canada, and I think some of our players were maybe in awe of that and not doing the right things.
“We have to play with a swagger and confidence regardless of who we’re playing, if we want to have success.”
Jonathan Yantis hit the 30-goal barrier on the power play to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead after the first period, before London erupted in the second. Nathan Dunkley had a pair for the visitors, while Antonio Stranges, Billy Moskal and Liam Foudy added singles.
Riley Damiani also replied for the Rangers, as the club dropped to 18-21-3-0 on the season.
Still, taking two of a possible four points on a killer weekend is something, especially when it was looking like potential blowouts were on tap.
Now the Rangers, who are only one point up on the suddenly charging Erie Otters for the last post-season berth in the west, enter a pivotal 11-game stretch.
Kitchener has six home games and five roadies in the next 25 days. Five of them are against foes in the bottom four of their conferences — Erie twice, Hamilton, Flint and Windsor.
Three are versus Owen Sound, who just sold off its best players, while another tilt is against Sarnia, which is also on the downswing after the trade deadline.
Only contests with London and Sault Ste. Marie seem daunting. In short — there are a bunch of winnable games in the mix.
“We look at every game as a key game,” said McKee. “When you’re playing teams that you are fighting for playoff position
with, those games are really important. We want to be playing our best hockey coming up in the next couple of weeks.”
Rangers winger Ryan Stepien left Friday’s game after getting rocked into the boards against Guelph. He missed Sunday’s affair, while forward Eric Guest returned after a one-game layoff.
Rangers’ Donovan Sebrango, left, is sent flying by Nathan Dunkley, moments after the Knights forward lost a glove.