OHL Kitchener Rangers Memorial Cup Preview

By Lee McLellan

Memorial cup preview

Kitchener Rangers fans have waited
21 long years since their last OHL championship. Since then, they have witnessed
a Memorial Cup heartbreaker against Ottawa in 1984, a 1989 season in which team
achieved first overall in the regular season only to lose in six games in the
first round of the playoffs, a 1990 season in which the team lost in the OHL
finals to the Oshawa generals, and four straight years of futility from 1999-2002
in which the team won only one playoff game over that span. But in 2002-03,
the team brought new hope in the regular season to achieve first overall in
the OHL. Finally after 21 long years, the wait is over for the suffering Ranger
fans; Kitchener is unquestionably the top team in the OHL and will now represent
their league in the Memorial Cup.

Road to the Cup

Western Conference quarterfinals
vs. the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds

Kitchener was in control
for the entire series. The Greyhounds suffered a devastating blow in the first
game when captain Trevor Daley went down with a season ending leg injury. Evan
McGrath scored the same number of goals (3) as the entire Greyhound team in
the series. Scott Dickie was outstanding, posting two shutouts and made the
3 star selection three times (two first star selections and one second star

Western Conference Semifinals
vs. the Guelph Storm

The second round was much
more intriguing for the Rangers then the first; their rivals from Guelph were
in town and the Rangers desperately wanted to avenge their 2002 sweep at the
hands of the Storm. The Rangers took game one 4-3 and game two 6-2 but the Storm
battled back and took game 3 by a single goal. Kitchener won game 4 in Guelph
to take a 3-1 series lead with an opportunity to win the series at home in game
5. The Rangers rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the 3rd period to tie
the game and send it to OT where Michael Richards cleanly won an offensive zone
faceoff which Nathan O’Nabigon snapped into the top corner. The Rangers’ second
line of O’Nabigon, Richards, and Peter Kanko led all scorers in the series.

Western Conference Finals
vs. the Plymouth Whalers

This series featured the
top two teams in the OHL during the regular season and pitted Rangers head coach/GM
Peter DeBoer as well as assistant coach/assistant GM Steve Spott against their
former team. Plymouth dominated game 1 but the score remained close until the
Whalers clinched it in the final minute with an empty net goal. Kitchener rallied
in the next two games winning 6-1 and 3-2 to take the series lead. In a must
win game, the Whalers came from behind in the 3rd period of game
4 to win 3-2 and took game five 2-1 in OT to take a 3-2 series lead home for
game six. The spirited Rangers never gave up and overcame an early deficit to
win 7-4 to set up a seventh game back home. With the score tied 1-1 with under
seven minutes remaining in the 3rd period, Michael Richards and Gregory
Campbell scored 16 seconds apart to give the rangers a 3-1 lead they would not
relinquish. Scott Dickie was outstanding, stopping 32 shots in the decisive

OHL finals vs. the Ottawa

The OHL marquee series featured
the best team in the east in the regular season vs. the best team in the west
in the regular season. It also pitted one of the OHL’s best young coaches Peter
DeBoer against the winningest coach in CHL history in Brian Kilrea. Kitchener
fired 63 shots at Lukas Mensator in game 1 but Adam Smyth scored in overtime
to give Ottawa the opener. In another nail-biter in game 2, the Rangers knew
they were in a must-win situation and squeaked out a victory on Nathan O’Nabigon’s
second OT goal of the playoffs. Kitchener brought their ‘A’ game to the table
in game 3 and overcame an early Ottawa goal to win 4-1. Game 4 turned out to
be the longest game in the OHL playoffs as the teams battled for over 85 minutes
of hockey before George Halkidis scored his only goal of the playoffs on a point
shot in double OT to give Kitchener a 3-1 series lead heading home. In game
5 Kitchener had the opportunity to erase 21 years of failure and did no disappoi
nt. Michael Richards scored in the last minute of the first period but Ottawa’s
Brendan Bell replied in the first minute of the second. Kitchener then took
over the rest of the way in the middle frame as Derek Roy, Gregory Campbell,
and Evan McGrath scores successive goals to give Kitchener a 4-1 score in the
game and the series as they took home their first championship since 1982 and
head off to their first Memorial Cup in 13 years.

Player Previews (by jersey number)

#2 Matt McCann – Defense

The Rangers 9th defenseman,
he has not played a single playoff game and likely will not see any ice unless
three Ranger defenders get injured.

#3 Matt Manias – Defense

Kitchener’s 7th defenseman,
Manias saw limited action in his six playoff games this year. Shows some offensive
potential but his defensive game and positioning need work.

#6 Thomas Harrison – Defense

Kitchener’s 6th defenseman
doesn’t usually see regular shifts and has shown signs of rust when called upon.
His positioning game is questionable but Harrison is a tough force to be reckoned

#7 Nick Duff – Defense

The Rangers 8th defenseman
has yet to dress for a playoff game. Duff lacks the puck handling and passing
skills to be effective at this stage of the year but has matured defensively
and would provide grit if the Rangers ran into injury trouble.

#10 Jesse Boucher – Left Wing

Boucher has had a very inconsistent
playoff; after an effective series in the first round, Boucher has vanished
in the last three rounds, posting a mere one point. He has seen limited action
in the later rounds and was a healthy scratch for a game in the finals. Will
only see 4th line duty at the very most.

#11 Matt Grennier – Centre

Grennier is one of the OHL’s best
defensive forwards and penalty killers. He is one of the main reasons Kitchener
achieved the best penalty killing throughout the year. Grennier is not very
much of an offensive threat but is a utility player who does the little things
extremely well. He’ll centre the 3rd or 4th line as well
as kill penalties.

#12 Paul McFarland – Left Wing

McFarland has been battling with
Chad McCaffrey all playoffs for the 12th forward spot. Kitchener
mainly only rolls three lines which is why McFarland has seen limited ice time.
Barring injuries to the Rangers forwards, he should not have too much ice time
in Quebec.

#16 Andre Benoit – Defense

Kitchener’s 2nd defenseman
lead the OHL in goals and points among defenseman in the regular season. A smooth
skater, with an effective shot, Benoit seems to always create offensive chances
at even strength and does a good job quarterbacking the second power play unit.
Benoits’ major weakness is his lack of physical play in the corners and in front
of his net.

#17 David Clarkson – Left Wing

Clarkson’s strong all around play
earned him a spot on the Rangers top line in the finals. He likes to dig in
the corners and get his nose dirty and has a hard slap shot. He is very strong
on the puck and hard to move off it. Clarkson is a very effective player for
this time of the year and the opposition must be aware of him when he’s on the
ice in Quebec.

#18 Michael Richards – Centre

Richards has been one of the league’s
best second line centres all year and lead the Rangers in goal scoring (37)
and points (87) in the regular season. He lead all scorers in the second round
of the playoffs against the Guelph Storm. His weakness is in the defensive zone;
Richards has trouble covering opposing players without taking penalties. Richards
played in the top prospects game earlier in the year and knows that a strong
Memorial Cup tournament could greatly help his draft status for this June.

#19 Evan McGrath – Centre/Left Wing

McGrath has developed quite nicely
this year and is widely viewed as one of the top rookies in the OHL. McGrath
provided six goals in the playoffs including the final goal in the final game
for the Rangers. His solid stick handling and skating ability came in handy
for team Ontario at the Under-17 tournament this year as he lead his club in
scoring. McGrath has already been predicted to go in one of the top three spots
of the 2004 NHL entry draft.

#21 George Halkidis – Defense

Kitchener’s 4th defenseman
has arguably been their most consistent rearguard in the OHL playoffs. He lead
the Ranger defensemen in assists in the playoffs and lead all OHL players in
+/- in the playoffs. Halkidis is extremely steady in his own end and his experience
as an overager has been very important to the Rangers. He’s excellent at starting
out breakouts with smart passes from his own side. His only goal in the playoffs
was in double overtime of game 4 of the finals.

#24 Rafal Martynowsky – Left Wing

Martynowsky has seen ice time on
each line throughout the regular season and playoffs and has shown good versatility
in being able to play all three forward positions and any role asked of him.
He possesses excellent stick handling and is a hard worker. He’s shown weaknesses
in his passing game. Expect Martynowsky to play on the 3rd or 4th
line in the Memorial Cup.

#26 T.J. Eason – Defense

The Ranger’s 5th defenseman
would be much higher on the depth charts of most other teams. The overage Kitchener
native has not seen very much ice time in the playoffs due to his weak offensive
skills and defensive zone coverage. Eason does provide solid leadership and
grit in his own end. Kitchener mainly rolls 4 defensemen so barring an injury
to one of their top four blueliners, expect Eason to see limited ice time.

#27 Adam Keefe- Right Wing

After sitting out the first nine
games of the regular season, Keefe has made an excellent transition from the
role of enforcer to that of a grinder. Many claim that Keefe has ‘hands of stone’
in front of the net and lacks puck handling skills but Keefe knows that scoring
goals is not his main role. Keefe provides the Rangers with a great deal of
hard work and battles hard in the corners and loves to hit. Brother of former
OHL champion and current member of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Sheldon Keefe,
Adam will continue providing a spark for the Rangers on the 3rd or
4th line.

#33 Carlo DiRienzo – Goaltender

This season has been a roller coaster
ride for the underage net minder; DiRienzo started the year very strong but
fell down to earth after some weak games. That didn’t stop the young netminder
from earning a spot next to Evan McGrath on Team Ontario’s Under-17 team. His
inconsistent play has prevented coach Peter DeBoer from starting him in important
games but when DiRienzo brings his ‘A’ game to the table, he’s very difficult
to beat. He’s yet to see a minute of action in these playoffs but knows he has
to be ready in case he’s called upon.

#38 Nathan O’Nabigon – Left Wing/Right

O’Nabigon was acquired from the Mississauga
Ice Dogs earlier this season to fill the Rangers’ void in the grit department.
He provided much more then what was asked of him including 22 goals in the regular
season to establish himself as one of the OHL‘s top power forwards. O’Nabigon
has been even better in the playoffs, scoring 10 goals and 8 assists for 18
points. Included in his goal totals were the second round series winner in OT
as well as the OT marker in game two of the finals. O’Nabigon will continue
providing a solid combination of grit and goal scoring on Kitchener’s 4th
line in the Memorial Cup.

#39 Chad McCaffrey – Left Wing

McCaffrey has been alternating with
Paul McFarland for the team’s final spot on the 4th line. The main
reason why he has not secured a permanent spot on the lineup is his inconsistent
play; he did provide three two-goal games in the regular season but went through
long stretches of weak play. His goal in game 3 of the finals coupled with his
extra year of experience may give him the edge over McFarland in the Memorial

#40 Scott Dickie – Goaltender

Prior to the season the Rangers had
three goaltenders on their roster and knew they had to move either Dickie or
Matt Harpwood. Kitchener’s decision to trade Harpwood for Nathan O’Nabigon irked
a few Ranger fans who claimed that Kitchener could never win with Dickie in
goal. The overage southpaw proved his critics wrong this year with a spectacular
playoffs. He lead the OHL in wins, goals against average, save percentage, and
tied for the lead in shutouts. How timely has Dickie’s goaltending been? Consider
that in the entire playoffs, Dickie has not allowed a single goal while the
Rangers were losing. Dickie remains undrafted and unsigned to an NHL contract
and knows that adding a Memorial Cup to his resume could be the missing link
to a promotion.

Head Coach/General Manager Peter

DeBoer is in his second year in Kitchener
and franchise’s huge turnaround has been attributed to him. The Rangers were
the OHL’s most improved team in 2002 after he took over. DeBoer came to the
Rangers from Plymouth where he enjoyed great success as the Whalers were perennial
contenders. DeBoer won coach of the year in the OHL in 1999 and 2000 and the
CHL coach of the year award in 2000. DeBoer can now add to his resume that he
won the highly touted ‘battle of the star coaches’ series in the OHL finals
against CHL legend Brian Kilrea.

NHL draft picks on the Rangers

#4 Gregory Campbell – Right Wing
(Florida Panthers 3rd round pick in 2002)

NHL vice president Colin Campbell’s
son was an important acquisition by the Rangers before the season and did not
disappoint. Campbell averaged over a point per game in the regular season and
scored a team high 15 goals in the playoffs. He’s not the most skilled player
but is an extremely hard worker who provides strong defensive play and has excellent
hockey sense. His strong hand-eye coordination is a huge asset on the power
play as Campbell is excellent at tipping point shots out of mid-air. Campbell
will continue to play on the first power play unit and first line on Quebec
as he has done all year.

#8 Steve Eminger – Defense (Washington
Capitals 1st round pick in 2002)

Eminger comes to the Memorial Cup
with 17 games of NHL experience already to his credit. He made the transition
from the NHL to the World Junior Championships to the OHL with relative ease,
achieving defenseman-of-the-month honors in January. Eminger’s transition game
is as good as anybody’s and is solid at moving the puck out of his own zone.
He recorded 27 assists in only 23 games in the regular season. He had been maligned
for his weak play in the first two rounds of the playoffs when he was battling
a shoulder injury, but silenced his critics with his solid play in the Western
conference finals as well as the OHL finals. An excellent stickhander who has
perfected the spin-o-rama, Eminger may be the best two-way defenseman in the
Memorial Cup. Eminger will continue to quarterback Kitchener’s first power play
unit and play 30 minutes a game on the blue line in Quebec.

#9 Petr Kanko – Right Wing (Los Angeles
Kings 3rd round pick in 2002)

Kitchener’s only import player has
been one of the top power forwards in the CHL. Kanko loves to hit and has knocked
a few players silly but also possesses excellent skating and solid stick handling.
He provides excellent tape-to-tape passes and is more then willing to go into
the corners. He had a solid playoff with 11 goals and 16 points for 27 points.
Kanko has no serious weaknesses in his game and is a presence whenever he touches
the ice. He will continue playing on the second line and on the power play in
the Memorial Cup.

#14 Derek Roy – Centre (Buffalo Sabres
2nd round pick in 2001)

When Kitchener drafted 5’8″
Roy in the second round in 1999, management was heavily criticized for using
a high pick on a player deemed too small to succeed in the league. Four years
later, the criticism over the Roy pick continues but it is not directed towards
the Rangers, it’s directed towards the 19 GM’s that passed him up. Roy has never
looked back since his rookie of the year honors in 2000. He was second in the
OHL in points per game in the regular season and lead the Rangers with 32 points
including the championship winning goal against Ottawa. Roy may be short but
his speed and excellent stick handling make him very difficult to take the puck
off of. He has also provided a strong defensive punch. Roy will continue playing
25-30 minutes a game in the Memorial Cup. Still unsigned by the Sabres, Roy
knows he could re-enter the draft and given that the Memorial Cup will be his
last few games as a Ranger. Expect a solid tournament from Roy.

#25 Marcus Smith – Defense (Phoenix
Coyotes 8th round pick in 2002)

Kitchener’s 3rd defenseman
was having an excellent playoff until he suffered an arm injury in game 3 of
the 3rd round. He was able to recover enough to play very strong
in the final two games of the playoffs and should be 100% for Quebec City. Kitchener’s
playoff MVP in 2002 thrives in important situations. A strong skater with good
stick handling and a strong ability at keeping the puck in the offensive zone,
Smith posted 10 assists in 15 playoff games this year. He has improved his physical
game this year but his defensive zone positioning still needs some work. Next
year Smith will be challenging for the AHL’s Springfield Falcons next year and
knows that a solid Memorial Cup could greatly help his chances.