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McDonnell’s hat-trick paces Rangers to win

Declan McDonnell sits third in OHL rookie scoring at 33 points

"Criminally underrated."

Two words Kitchener Rangers head coach and general manager Mike McKenzie used to describe first year winger Declan McDonnell.

“He’s a guy that no one talks about,” McKenzie said, “He should be getting more interest from NHL teams.  People should be talking about him more.”

Sure, it could be easy for McDonnell to get lost in the shuffle, as he is one of many key cogs on a deep Rangers roster.

Heck, when it comes to talking about rookies, Kingston's exceptional status player Shane Wright has a hold of the headlines.

But after Friday night, if you haven’t already, it might be time to start noticing.

McDonnell posted his first career OHL hat trick in what was a 7-1 victory over the Mississauga Steelheads.

He’s been going strong as of late, with six goals and 13 points in his last 10 contests, and finds himself third among OHL rookies in points with 33.  Teammate Francesco Pinelli is right behind him at 30 points.

And right before his three-goal performance, McDonnell was recognized for his academic achievements in a pregame ceremony.

Not a bad Friday for a guy, and McKenzie couldn’t be happier for him.

“He’s a guy that embodies what it means to be a Ranger on and off the ice,” he said, “Work ethic, compete, every practice, every workout, every shift.  (He) does all the little things off the ice.  He’s on time for school every day.  He goes to class every day.  He’s a guy that’s low maintenance.”

“I can’t say enough good things about him.”

It was a night where the puck was finding McDonnell.

The first came on a drop pass from Mike Petizian, whose speed down the right wing drew the defender his way, and left McDonnell uncovered and able to fire a shot from the top of the face off circle to open the scoring.

The next, he joined the rush and cut to the net, taking a nifty feed from Isaac Langdon to give him two before the game was five minutes old.

The third came off a juicy rebound that bounced to him on the door step, uncovered once again, halfway through the second.

“It felt really good to see the third one go in,” McDonnell said.

That made the game 4-0 --- Riley Damiani scored a power play marker earlier in the first period --- and the onslaught was on.

Michael Vukojevic potted a shorthanded goal a couple moments later, sending a clearly frustrated Kai Edmonds to the Steelheads bench after giving up five goals on 16 shots.

Joe Ranger came in, but a goalie change didn’t stop the bleeding.

Reid Valade added another one just moments later.  However, Kitchener native Cole Schwindt broke the goose egg for Mississauga before heading to the third.

Greg Meireles had the only goal in the final frame.

So while Friday’s focus was on McDonnell, others are still putting up the points on a consistent basis.

A total of 13 skaters had at least a point for the Rangers, including Petizian’s one assist to extend his point streak to 13 games.

Axel Bergkvist posted a pair of helpers, and now has points in four of his last five games.

Vukojevic’s now got points in three straight.

And as for the big guns?

Hawel’s had six multi-point games in the nine games since returning from injury, adding two more assists Friday.

Meireles has points in five of his last six, while Damiani looks poised with points in 11 of his last 12.

The scoring is coming from all ends of the spectrum, and we didn’t even talk about Jonathan Yantsis’ team-leading 33 goals.  But with him sitting with just the one goal in five games, McKenzie will take the scoring by committee.

“You can’t go through a couple rounds of playoffs just relying on three, four, five guys,” he said.

“If one or two guys aren’t going, that’s fine, that’s going to happen.  But other guys have to step up, so it’s great to see that those other guys can get the job done when maybe our big guns aren’t firing on all cylinders.”

“It’s been our secondary group that’s doing most of our damage lately, so it’s great to see.”

On the defensive side of the puck, Jacob Ingham was stellar against his former club, stopping 39 shots to collect the win.

“I’ve had a lot of bigger wins in my career than that game,” Ingham said, “But I think that one felt the best in my career.”

Depth scoring.  Consistent goaltending.  Two crucial pieces.

And with 18 games left in the regular season, the Rangers are in the conversation among the OHL’s best.

For now, the Rangers remain a point back of London for tops in the Western Conference, and are in Sarnia on Sunday afternoon.

Pregame on 570 NEWS is 3:30 p.m.


Mark Pare

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