The Kitchener Rangers failed to clinch the OHL Championship against the Belleville Bulls in game five of their OHL final at home in front of a packed house at the Kitchener Auditorium on Thursday night.
The Rangers took a commanding three games to none lead in the series and looked poised to make yet another sweep. That was true until game four of the finals in Belleville where they lost in overtime after taking three penalties in the extra frame.
The Rangers then had a chance to win it in front of the wild Ranger fans at “The Aud” on Thursday night but ran into the stellar goaltending of Mike Murphy. The Rangers fired 42 shots on net and only managed to score once. Belleville buried the game winner on the power-play in the third and final frame.
The Rangers came into the season already knowing that they were going to have a berth in the Memorial Cup this year as the host team but that didn’t stop the Rangers from wanting to prove to everyone that they were going into the Mem Cup as the OHL Champions, not just the host.
The Rangers have been building their team over the past three years for a run at the Cup. The team posted a dominant 53-11-1-3 record in the regular season which was good enough for the first place in all of the CHL.
Kitchener’s line-up is absolutely deadly. They have a top line that is the same as their power play followed by two other lines full of secondary scoring as well as a fourth line that could be a second line on more than half of the other OHL teams. Their defence is anchored by their captain Matt Pepe and they only have one player on their blue line under 6-feet-tall.
That player is Yannick Weber, who was a 3rd round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens and tallied 55 points in 59 games this year. As if that weren’t good enough to contend for the championship, the Rangers signed a rookie goaltender in the off-season named Josh Unice. He stepped into the starting role and won 30 games this season.
Still the Rangers were not quite happy. They went out and made a blockbuster trade at the deadline acquiring All-Star goaltender Steve Mason from the London Knights. It was the first time in OHL history that two goalies on the same team ended the season with 30 wins a piece.
Kitchener entered the OHL final against Belleville after sweeping both Plymouth and Sarnia and taking down Sault Ste. Marie in five games.
Belleville took down Peterborough, Barrie and Oshawa in that order on the way to earning themselves a Memorial Cup berth.
This year will mark the sixth time the Rangers have made it to the Mem Cup appearing in the championship final each of the past five times. Belleville will be making only its second appearance.
The OHL is a great league to watch some up and coming stars and the Memorial Cup is the biggest showcase of young talent in Canada. But to get there, both the Rangers and the Bulls will want to enter the tournament as the OHL champion, no one wants to slip through the back door.
Saturday night marks the Rangers third chance at closing out the series and it will be then when we see whether the Bull will buck the Ranger for one more night or whether the Bull will be sent off to the meat market.
This article has been submitted by Chris Pope.