SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT. - If it were judged on style points, it wasn’t perfect.
In the end, the Soo Greyhounds gutted out an important 7-4 Ontario Hockey League win over the Kitchener Rangers on Saturday night at the GFL Memorial Gardens, sweeping a back-to-back set with the Midwest Division club in the process.
“We’re not going to evaluate that on style points, that’s for sure,” said Greyhounds coach John Dean.
“It was a very gutsy win,” Dean added. “We had lots of opportunity to feel sorry for ourselves, but we didn’t and bounced back and continued to pounce when we needed to.”
Rangers coach Mike McKenzie said he was pleased with some aspects of the game.
“We played pretty hard,” McKenzie said. “We were in the game five-on-five the whole way through. Special teams played a pretty big role the whole way through. I was happy with our compete level and the way we skated. We fought back from some deficits and kept coming back every time we were trailing.”
Among the deficits the Rangers came back from was a 4-3 deficit in the third period that saw the visitors score midway through the final frame before Greyhounds defenceman Ryan O’Rourke scored the game winner with 6:34 to go.
“We were a little down after they scored that tying goal, but we knew we had the energy and the pushback that we were going to respond in a good way and that we were going to have a good end of the game like that,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said playing the second game of back-to-backs hasn’t been easy this season.
“The opposing team has a game plan coming in that they’re going to give you a pushback and have a different style of play because the night before hadn’t worked. It’s definitely a harder game. It’s definitely more of a structured game and more of that hard-working pace.”
“When you win the game the night before, usually they get angry and them make adjustments,” Dean said. “They want to prove to themselves that they can be better.”
Overage forward Tye Kartye called Saturday’s win “a really big step for our team.”
“Just that it wasn’t a perfect game and we did find a way to win,” Kartye added.
Special teams played a role in the win for the Greyhounds as well with the team picking up three power play goals in the win.
“It hasn’t been bouncing our way recently and tonight we were moving the puck around and all three guys were getting touches,” Kartye said. “We really moved it around well tonight and capitalized on our opportunities.”
“The power play saved our bacon tonight,” Dean said. “We couldn’t find a way to really generate a ton five-on-five. We weren’t bad, but we weren’t good. The power play did what they always do. The power play was really the difference in the game tonight.”
Asked about the penalties taken by the Rangers and the Greyhounds taking advantage, McKenzie said he felt it was a “poorly officiated game.”
“Extremely poorly officiated game, probably both ways at times,” McKenzie said. “You have to deal with it the best you can. I’d like our penalty kill to be a little bit better. They have a pretty good power play over there. They go three goals on the power play and that’s the difference in the game.”
Kartye gave the Greyhounds a 1-0 lead at 11:02 of the opening period when he took a pass in the slot from Cole MacKay below the goalline and beat Rangers goaltender Pavel Cajan glove side.
Shortly after having a goal waved off, the Rangers got on the board at 8:52 of the second period when Carson Rehkopf took a pass in the right faceoff circle and beat Greyhounds goaltender Samuel Ivanov to tie the game at one.
The Rangers took a 2-1 lead when Francesco Pinelli skated into the left circle and beat Ivanov with a shot glove side at 10:24.
The Greyhounds tied the game at two on the power play when Kartye beat Cajan from the slot glove side at 15:27.
On the next shift, rookie forward Justin Cloutier gave the Greyhounds a 3-2 lead when he moved into the slot and beat Cajan high glove side.
Rangers forward Jacob LeBlanc tied the game at 16:42 when he beat Ivanov with a shot from the slot through some traffic.
Overage Sault forward Cole MacKay made it 4-3 when he had a pass from Rory Kerins redirect off him and past Cajan at 19:21.
Rehkopf tied the game at four at 10:49 of the third period when he beat Ivanov high glove side from the slot after Pinelli sent the puck to the net and it found its way to Rehkopf in the slot.
O’Rourke gave the Greyhounds the lead for good at 13:26 when his point shot found its way through traffic in the slot and past Cajan.
“It was a simple pass and I just tried to get it to the net, and it found a way,” O’Rourke said of the winner. “He was screened pretty well.”
Empty net goals by Kerins at 18:15 and Tyler Savard at 19:35 of the third period sealed the win.
The Greyhounds got three-point nights from four players in the win, including all three members of the top line.
Kartye finished the night with two goals and an assist while Kerins and MacKay had a goal and two assists each.
O'Rourke also had a goal and two assists for the Greyhounds.
Seeing his first game action since a start on Feb. 4 against the North Bay Battalion, Ivanov made 25 saves for the Greyhounds.
“I’m so proud of this kid,” Dean said. “Just his diligence to make sure he came back in shape. The amount of effort and time he put in, he’s gained so much respect from his teammates. He let in a bad goal and I know how mad he was about it. He showed his frustration between periods and the guys let him know how important he was and that they had his back and his third period was outstanding.”
“For a guy to be out for that long and to come back and produce a third period like that in a tight game, if that doesn’t scream character, I don’t know what does,” Dean added.
Rehkopf finished the night with two goals and an assist for the Rangers while Pinelli had one of each.
“(Rehkopf) has the ability to be a really special player,” McKenzie said. “A 16-year-old that can shoot the puck like that and score is pretty impressive.
Cajan stopped 37 shots for Kitchener.
“He was great again,” McKenzie said. “He’s been awesome lately. He’s becoming quite consistent, which is a good sign for us.”
Next up for the Greyhounds is a three-game road trip that will take the team to Sarnia on Wednesday, Flint on Friday and Saginaw next Saturday night.
The Greyhounds record sits at 31-17-6-1 following Saturday’s victory and the team trails the Flint Firebirds by five points for top spot in the OHL’s West Division after the Firebirds also won on Saturday.
The Windsor Spitfires also picked up a win on Saturday to remain one point behind the Greyhounds in the division.
With a record of 22-26-2-2, the Rangers will travel to Saginaw on Wednesday before returning home for games against Erie on Friday and Guelph next Sunday afternoon.
The Rangers sit two points behind the Erie Otters, who fell in overtime to Windsor on Saturday, in the OHL’s Western Conference standings and tied with the Sarnia Sting for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.