There's a certain magic about home openers, especially season openers. Everyone starts with a clean slate, no penalty minutes, right in the thick of both the league and team scoring races. Netminders have those beautiful goose eggs all lined up beside their name under the heading of Goals Against Average. The Windsor Spitfires' and their fans were treated to an exciting night in the boarder city despite a third period power out and tremendous fog both of which extended the game past 3 hours in length. The Spitfires infront of over 3,000 fans, came back from down 4-2, to force overtime and eventually a shootout, not just any shootout, the first and thus far longest shootout in OHL history, 4 shooters aside took their best shots before Brett Liscomb sent the crowd into a frenzy with wrister that provided an abrupt and history altering end to the Spitfires tilt with the Guelph Storm.
With the momentum gained from their come-from-behind win, along with being fresh off a regular season start against the Storm, along with a veteran-landen lineup. A standing room crowd of 5,811 in Kitchener seemed to provide a dead stop for this momentum and perhaps in hindsight the Spitfires were guilty of getting acclimatized to what amounted to be horribly slow ice conditions at the Ancient Windsor Arena, where heat, humidity and moisture in the air slowed the game's pace down to that of a snail. With the emphasis on interference in the OHL with officiating and such, the emphasis had to be on the specialty teams, an area where the Rangers were amongst the elite in the entire OHL last season. On this night they drove that point home adding several potent exclaimation marks. The Rangers were an astounding 5 for 14 on the powerplay and Evan McGrath started driving home this point early, infact only 2:02 into the first period giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Kyle Knetchel, who was Windsor's number one man throughout the playoffs allowed a rebound to squeeze out into a vulnerable position where McGrath and veteran defender Scott Todd both took a swipe at the puck, with the former obviously connecting. It was the start of some very big things from a powerplay unit quite litterally ravaged by graduation.
Kyle Knechtel found himself under siege throughout
the first period, which Rangers, invading the upper areas of his crease
and constantly looking through a maze of players to make the first save,
forget about rebounds, something that he was not overly generous with after
the first goal. Still, the Rangers soldiered on, and unlike previous
seasons they were extremely patient shooting, they did not launch a barrage
of 22 shots at the Spits netminder, but finessed their plays and attempted
to pick corners on the Ayr native in the Windsor net. Justin Azevedo
then scored from boards with a seeing-eye wrister that Knechtel never saw
with rugged rookie winger: Mike Pelech parked infront. Evan McGrath
was flying out on the ice for most of the night. He turned on the
afterburners after Dan Turple turned a Spitfires' opportunity aside, came
in two-on-two with Davis, and his pass deflected off of a Spitfire defender's
skate and directly to Matt Pepe who, after scoring in his first exhibition
game, finally scored the first OHL regular season goal of his career, closing
out the scoring at 3-0 with an assist for Turple.
When searching for the stars of the game, or more likely the heros or catalysts of the win, you must look at what would have occured if you removed any one of the talents in the lineup and the negative effects that may have resulted on the team. Dan Turple's contribution, a second star one at the end of the night might seem minimal in a 9-2 victory, on the surface he only needed to allow 8 goals or less for the victory. The second period was near completely disasterous for the Rangers. They spoted the Spitfires 8 power plays including a pair of two-man advantages and while Brian Soso was able to dig a puck quite litterally out of the grasp of the big Rangers' netminder to break the shutout, it was nearly a miracle that the Spitfires did not strike earlier, and perhaps more than once. One memorable save saw the usually upright Turple slide across the net stacking the pads to thwart what appeared to be a sure goal by the Spitfires. The crowd was supportive as always, but showing an increased level of frustration with the officiating after a what was seemingly a constant parade of Rangers were on their way to the penalty box.
Patrick Davis broke the Rangers out of their funk while shorthanded, Evan McGrath stole the puck at the blueline fought his way through a hook and with the assurance of a delayed-penalty to finally put the Rangers back to even manpower threw the puck over to Davis who made little mistake in scoring a crushing goal for the Spitfires. With most of the wind sucked out of their sails, new Spitfires coach Moe Mantha elected to change netminders going into the third period, 16-year-old rookie Jake Fischer found his first taste of OHL action rather sour, Patrick Davis less than one minute into the period, Justin Azevedo snapped his second of the game past Fischer only minutes later, 2 shots two goals and the Rangers had the young netminder both on his heals and on the ropes at the same time. It was one of those nights were everything seemed to either find the back of the net or barely miss unguarded portions of the goal. Mike Duco and Evan McGrath would each add powerplay tallies, with Yves Bastien scoring his first goal, getting in on goal clear and making the moves on the obviously flustrered netminder.
Mike Weber's snapshot to the top corner of the Rangers' net with just over a minute left while shorthanded had to be small consolation to an outclassed Spitfires club. Dan Turple made a pad stop on a penalty shot awarded to Mickey Renaud in the third period. Two Rangers had career first goals in the 9-2 blowout win. For the first time in two full seasons the Rangers had a new full-time captain: Mark Fraser who was named team captain only one day earlier. Boris Valabik and Ryan Donally were the only regulars out of Rangers' lineup, the Spitfires missed the presence of pest forward Steve Downie, who like Donally is serving the final games of a suspension. 1st round pick Mike Pelech had a pair of assists in his debut. Matt Pepe landed the biggest hit of the night and had to answer to Cory McGillis afterwards in an entertaining fight. Former teammates and overagers: Sean Courtney and Paul McFarland also dropped the gloves. Scott Todd appeared to also be in a fighting mood, but officials took their opportunity to remove him from the game when he protested a third period penalty by smashing his stick into the boards.