Balanced Steelheads effort trumped by Rangers star power

Top line and goalie carry Kitchener past Mississauga in preseason clash

Andrew LeBlanc scores the shootout winner in the Kitchener Rangers 4-3 victory over the Mississauga Steelheads in preseason action. He also scored one goal and added an assist in regulation. Dan Hamilton, Kitchener Rangers

KITCHENER — Mike Petizian helped propel the Kitchener Rangers to a 4-3 shootout victory against his hometown Mississauga Steelheads in front of a sold out (COVID regulations) Kitchener crowd of 1,000 Friday night.

The OHL is slowly gearing back up after an 18 month absence, mirroring the Rangers overall sluggish performance in the game. However, Petizian wasted no time getting on the board twice in the first six minutes to help bring Kitchener to a 2-1 record in the preseason.

The 20-year-old flashed off his water bug puck-carrying style on the Rangers first goal, carrying the puck behind the net to find Joseph Serpa in front of the net to snap home his first of the pre-season 5:29 into the opening frame.

Just 14 seconds later, the fourth year forward pounced on a turnover caused by Andrew LeBlanc, finding himself alone in the slot and firing a quick snapshot five-hole to double up the lead and record his third point of the preseason.

The Rangers assistant captain played strong on both ends, notably forcing three turnovers in a single first period shift, and recording a big shot block late in the third.

After an excellent keep at the blueline earlier in the powerplay, LeBlanc, the Rangers first round pick in 2020, continued his torrid start to his career in the OHL, potting his third goal in as many games off of a deflection in front at 10:32 of the second period.

The rookie ultimately scored a much prettier goal in the shootout, faking to his backhand and sliding a shot low blocker to pot the lone shootout goal.

Steelheads carried most of the play throughout the game, heavily outshooting the Rangers 42-25. Pavel Cajan held down the fort on numerous odd-man rushes, none more notable than a point-blank pad save on a 2-on-1 with exactly five minutes remaining in the game with the Rangers up by one. 

He was also unflappable in the shootout, waiting out all three shooters to make positional saves and close the game out.

Steelheads, who fell to 1-1-1 in the preseason, finally solved Cajan 1:45 into the second period on a wild sequence where Cajan got turned around multiple times in his net making desperation saves during a buzzing shift by the Steelheads before Luca Del Bel Belluz chipped the puck over the outstretched Czech netminder.

It was a promising sign for the 17-year-old, who had just one goal in 58 games in the 2019/20 OHL season.

Mississauga tallied its second of the night on a powerplay goal 3:06 into the third period. Craig Spence got a clean entry, circling the entire zone before finding Evan Brand at the point. 

The big blueliner fired a shot that was deflected by Zander Veccia in the slot for his second goal of the preseason, a welcome goal after he passed up a glorious 2-on-0 opportunity in the second period to feed leading Steelheads scorer Zakary Lavoie.

Consistent Steelhead play paid off when they tied it up at three with just 27 seconds remaining after relentless pressure for over two minutes with the goalie pulled. James Hardie found himself behind the net and through the chaos in front was able to chip in a puck off of Cajan to force overtime.

Joe Ranger had an uneven night statistically for the Steelheads, stopping 22 shots, but did come up with numerous big saves throughout the night, notably a diving glove save on a 2-on-0 just three minutes into the game.

These two teams will meet again on Sunday in Mississauga.

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Posted: Sep 25 2021 9:07 am
Filed under: Hockey Sports