Rangers GM reflecting on the 23-24 season after Thursday’s playoff exit

The post-mortem has begun on the 2023-24 Kitchener Rangers season.

After losing to the London Knights 4-3 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Thursday night and being swept four straight in the second round of the playoffs, the Rangers General Manager, Mike McKenzie is reflecting on the season that his team had on the ice.

“No matter where you finish, if you’re not putting the trophy over your head at the end, it’s never a fun day the day after your season ends,” he said. “Definitely disappointing, somber mood but we’re going to take some time to reflect on how things went. Things we did well, things we can improve, our personnel, where we want to get better and we’ll start looking ahead to next season very shortly here.”

At the start of the season, many fans and pundits alike had the Rangers pegged for a rebuilding year. McKenzie said that with how successful the team was with the new coaching staff of Jussi Ahokas, Jeff Kyrzakos and Brad Flynn at the helm, expectations evolved for the team.

“I think at the start of the year, there was a lot of talk about being a young team and having a rebuilding year, potentially struggling a little bit and things like that. I never really fully bought into that aspect of it. I knew we were going to be younger but the struggling part, I did think we had too many good leftover players still and a good base that I thought we’d have a solid team,” he said. “With the way we started and into the midpart of the year up until Christmas time, we did raise the expectation level for our team. Which is a good thing. I think anytime you can do that, then people quickly forgot about the rebuilding and the young team. That’s a credit to the players and staff that we put ourselves in that spot.”

McKenzie said now that the season has ended, they will look at the full picture.

“There’s things that we would have liked to do differently or gone differently but there’s also things that we’re happy with how they went too. We’ll take the next few days to do the post-mortem and look at all areas of our organization and personnel. We’ll get back to working towards next year.”

McKenzie said that injuries showed up at the end of the season which was a bit out of their control but wasn’t ideal for them.

“I think the coaches and Jussi would be a better guy to talk about that,” he said. “Day in and day out, they work so closely with the players and every practice, every game, every gameplan, and I think we’ve had some really good chats so far about little tweaks and things that you want to do a little differently next year. I think that’s normal every year whether it’s a successful year or a down year. It’s nothing major but there’s definitely areas of growth from our coaching staff that we’re excited to put into practice.”

McKenzie said that the emergence of young talents like Cameron Reid, Tanner Lam, Matheas Stark, Andrew McNiel, Luca Romano and Cameron Arquette makes him feel like they are set up in a positive way for the next few years.

“It’s definitely positive,” he said, “most GM’s in our league, or people who know the league would tell you that having four 16-year-olds in the lineup, some nights we had five, and I think one night we had six, it’s not really a recipe for success. Old teams win in our league. We knew that and we were committed to putting younger players in our lineup after last season and developing those young players, making them the future of our team. In one sense, it’s tough because in the present, it’s not really a realistic recipe for success but the silver lining is that they all perform pretty well.”

McKenzie said having been eliminated by the London Knights the last two seasons, there are still some positives to draw from those exits.

“We need to find a way to get over the hump,” he said. “There are definitely things that we need to look at tweaking or changing and there’s no off-years on our side. It’s the old AL East of junior hockey. That’s the reality of what we face. London is good every year, we want to be good every year, Guelph’s always got a solid team, Erie had an improved team, Owen Sound is always a hard team to play against. Until the OHL makes a decision to potentially realign the divisions or conferences, that’s just what we’re dealing with. It raises the bar for us.”

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