The Highway 7 Rivalry is alive and well between the Kitchener Rangers and Guelph Storm.
A home-and-home back-to-back to kick off the season is a simple way to light that fire.
Rangers overage defenceman Arber Xhekaj took an undisciplined four-minute double minor at the end of the first period, after choke-slamming Ayr's Ben McFarlane to the ice.
“I was just trying to make a statement and get the boys going,” said Xhekaj after the game. “I tried to take a two minute; ended up being a four. After that the boys were rolling.”
The Storm were leading the Rangers 2-0 after the first period, at the time of the penalties.
“The league's getting a bit on the softer side. You can't fight, and not too many guys over there would fight me,” said Xhekaj, the one they call The Sheriff, five days after signing his entry-level deal with the NHL's Montreal Canadiens.
Rangers head coach Mike McKenzie needed to spark his team for the comeback.
“There wasn't energy, there wasn't passion,” said McKenzie. “I told the guys, 'How many guys have missed a year of hockey last year, raise your hand.' Almost the whole room puts up their hand. I said, 'Well, get excited to play. We're back now, so let's get going.'”
Kitchener earned the lead, so the Storm pulled their goalie with just over two minutes remaining. Guelph forward Sasha Pastujov hammered home the hat-trick, on a point shot, to even it up at four, with just 2:15 remaining.
But, that was more than enough time. Newcomer Justin Nolet potted the winner with just 62 seconds left.
The Rangers stopped the Storm 5-4, to earn both wins on the weekend. For his part, Xhekaj was excellent after the double-minor, earning three assists in the win.
“Good teams find a way to win, and we found a way today,” said McKenzie.
They'll try and do it again Friday, when Kitchener hosts the Sarnia Sting.
It'll be the first time full-capacity is allowed at The Aud, this season. Pre-game starts at 7 p.m on 570 NEWS with Mike Farwell and Chris Pope.