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Rangers, Whalers, both blink on home ice

Team suspensions remain mystery

Sarnia's Danny Fritsche stands open dangerously at the side of the Rangers
goal during a second period Sarnia powerplay.

The Plymouth Whalers had lost only one game in their past 10 going into the night, the Rangers meanwhile were 8-2-1 in the month of January, the Whalers were 4 points back of the Rangers when the night began with two games in hand and finished the night the same way, as both of the top two teams in the OHL lost on their own ice, the Whalers loss, a hard-fought 2-1 loss to the Central division leading: Toronto Majors, the Rangers a sloppy 6-3 loss to conference rivals: the Sarnia Sting.  Surprisingly the surging Rangers and Whalers are lost behind an upstart Peterborough Petes team who finished the month of January with an astonishing 10-1-2 record which vaulted the team into second in the very tight, but much weaker Eastern Conference.  The entire story for the Rangers isn't having their modest 5 game winning streak snapped, it is more in the suspensions to 4th year veterans: Derek Roy and George Halkidis who were both sent home until at least Monday for disciplinary reasons.  Steve Eminger had to misse the game due a death in the family.

The Rangers feasted on the Sting in the final game prior to the Christmas break, with a 6-2 blowout victory, the Sting were missing a few of their quality defenders including rugged captian: Tyler Hanchuk.  This time the tables were turned and the Sting had free reign over the Rangers and their backup netminder.  The departure of both George Halkidis and Steve Eminger proved costly for the Rangers who arguably needed to spread the ice time amongst their 6 defenders more evenly.  Thomas Harrison who had a spirited fight in the second period which probably provided the Rangers with a surge in the second period while down 3-1, backfilled one of the two spots, playing in his first game since December 27th, when he twisted his knee against the Windsor Spitfires.  Nick Duff, who has been great when called upon filled the other spot on the blueline.  The lions share of the work went to Benoit and Smith who were both played to exhaustion, Benoit moreso since he played nearly 90% of the total time when the Rangers enjoyed the man-advantage and it clearly showed in his play in the defensive zone which was pretty much as lackluster as we have seen all season.  The Rangers also elected to use power forward: Gregory Campbell on the other point who looked lost at the position for most of the game.

The changes brought on by the loss of the three veterans echoed throughout the lineup, Adam Keefe spent several shifts penalty killing and managed to keep his jersey on for the entire game, a very strong showing for the character winger who narrowly missed scoring on Gherson after a beautiful setup by McCaffery on a rush.  Matt Grennier was booed by Rangers fans for his pass up center ice while the Rangers were clearing the zone on the powerplay, it led directly to a Aaron Power point blast which illuded netminder Carlo DiRienzo and turned out to be the shorthanded game winner.  Much of the cat calls were unjustified as the Rangers' jack of all trades utility center had a very strong game for the Rangers while filling in on the top line, with Clarkson and Campbell on his wings, along with adding a little speed to the line, he also won just about every single faceoff he took, probably one of the most forgotten stats.

Rafal Martynowski watches from the crease as the puck sails just wide in 
the third period, with the Rangers pressing on the powerplay.

Rookie netminder Carlo DiRienzo who looked poised against the Erie Otters fought the puck at times on this night, and despite an amazing stop in the second period with the score tied at one a piece failed to make enough big stops to enable his team to win.  Starter: Scott Dickie appears to be on the top of his game, the last Rangers' loss on a Scott Dickie start was on January 7th, unlike during the beginning of the season, he is making it very hard for coach: Peter DeBoer to give playing time to DiRienzo who is the Rangers' future between the pipes.

Things started to go wrong for the Rangers in the second period when Nathan O'Nabigon took a penalty for interference and Kanko got caught retaliating for a cross-check to the face leaving the Rangers down two men for a full two minutes.  Hecimovic and Fritsche scored to give the Sting a two goal lead, first on the two man advantage and then on the one-man advantage, official Mike Pearce was booed by many of the 6,100 in attendance for the calls, prodominanty the second of the two.  The Rangers were granted a two-man advantage of their own and after a scrum developed after an awkward goal by Michael Richards, the Rangers were granted yet another powerplay which Richards also connected on.  Aside from this one minute long spurt on the powerplay the Rangers powerplay 2 for 8 on the night was very ordinary without kingpins like Steve Eminger and center Derek Roy in the lineup.  Reg Thomas put the game out of reach in the third period beating DiRienzo with a wrister before Dan Fritsche put the game away with an empty netter, his second of the night outskating Rangers' defender: Marcus Smith to the puck.

Kris Newbury had 4 assists on the night for the Sting.  Robert Gherson who has not always has luck on his side against the Rangers was named 3rd star and had a very strong game between the pipes for the Sting.  The Sting lost last seasons' opener to the Rangers in blowout fashion, a nationally televised game 3-0 and this season had already been humiliated 6-2, Gherson was the starter in all but one of those games, not that he was at fault for any of the loses, but the Aud has just not been an overly comfortable placed for the Sting to play in, they finally succeeded in their 4th try in two seasons.  For the Rangers the loss broke their 5 game winning streak, and left them within striking distance of both Plymouth and Ottawa who lost and tied on this night respectively.

Exceptional game night photography done by: Duct Tape.