Kitchener Rangers- A Postmortem

By Jason Ahrens
The Rangers had a wild and crazy 1999-2000 season, there were plenty of changes,
on the ice and off. After numerous personnel changes and a coaching change, the
Rangers made a run at the Midwestern Division title, only to fizzle down the stretch, finishing 2nd in the division and 6th overall. This 66 point performance was a 14 point improvement from last year, when they finished tied for 8th and lost a one game showdown with Windsor for the right to be pummeled by the Plymouth Whalers.

This season the Rangers faced the Sault Greyhounds and bowed out in five games. Three of the four losses were close, two were decided by one goal, and the other, by two.

The Rangers scored 229 goals, an improvement of 24 goals, but they gave up 256, which was actually one better than last year. This is obviously an area of concern, as the team had trouble breaking out of their zone all year. But, there is a lot to be positive about on this team, as they have 13 players born in 1982 or later. So for the Rangers, 2001-2002 may be their year, but they should be better next year too.

The Rangers lose three over age forwards, but the good news is that they only chipped in for 31 goals. Gone are Mike Mazzucca, Brandon Merli, and Serge Payer. Mazzucca and Merli have limited pro potential, if they play next year it will be at the United League Level or lower. Payer will be definitely be missed for his leadership, hustle, and face offs. The Captain has been signed by Florida. I expect that he will start with their ECHL affiliate. He had 36 points in 44 games after battling numerous off ice problems over a year period. I can see him doing well in the E, and perhaps getting to spend some time in the A over the next year or two.

The Rangers have 3 drafted 19 year olds. They are defenceman Allan Rourke (Toronto), winger Andrew Peters (Buffalo), and centre Ryan Held (New Jersey). Rourke is the most likely to start the year in the AHL as he had an excellent breakthrough year. In 67 games he popped 31 goals, 43 assists for a 74 point total. He logged a lot of ice time and was one of two defenceman on the team able to make the long pass out of his zone, or skate the puck up ice away from trouble. He is excellent on the power play, and loves to sneak into the slot and blast away with his one timer. He is very good at jumping into the rush as the 4th man. He does have the knock of being soft on defence at times, but with his offensive abilities, he can the move the puck out quickly which is a great asset in the speedy transition game of pro hockey.

Peters struggled with injuries all year, but has pro size, skating, and is a feared fighter. He is not much of a finisher as his hands are better suited at belting people than scoring. I can definitely see him starting the season with Rochester, but he will have to get in better shape, and be prepared to drop the gloves often. With Barnaby off to the Pens, and Rob Ray getting older, there may be a spot for him in Buffalo one day.

Held scored 74 points in 64 games but was a disappointing -22. Stats like that won’t impress the Devils. Held is good on the power play, but stands around a lot in his own end when playing 5 on 5. Part of the reason for his poor defence is the inability of most Ranger defencemen to make tape to tape passes. This was a team that was real easy for opposing blue liners to pinch on. I can’t see Held playing in Albany next year, so it will likely be off to the ECHL, where he can work on his strength, defence, and skating. He is a possible over age candidate, but I think that he wouldn’t make much progress by returning for another year.

The Rangers have 3 19 year olds who are not drafted. They are goalie Reg Bourcier, defenceman Bill Browne, and defenceman Chris Brannen. They are excellent candidates to return as overagers and this is where the Rangers will need the most help, behind the blue line. Bourcier could catch on with an ECHL team, but could use some more seasoning in his game. He is definitely a reflex goalie, stays deep in his crease, has a quick glove hand. His puck handling is poor, and he makes bad decisions with the puck as well. He sees lots of rubber, as the Rangers get routinely out shot.

Brannen was a good late addition, transferring over from U.S. college. He had 20 points in 30 games and saw lots of ice time, often paired up with Browne. Browne was picked up in a late trade with the Greyhounds and is a physical stay at home defenceman who is a good penalty killer. He has to really work on his skating and his passing, so another year in the OHL would be a good place to start.

The Rangers definitely have a bright future and should do better next season with their over age positions. With the majority of their players being born in 1982, they could keep the team more or less intact over a two year period. I will finish off my postmortem on the Rangers in another article, focusing on the 17 year olds, led by Mike Wehrstedt, who is ranked 117 by Central scouting.