The last time the Kitchener Rangers played a game at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, it was March 6, 2020, a 6-4 loss to the Barrie Colts.
So it was appropriate that the first game in over a year and a half came against the very same organization, albeit a preseason contest and a whole new crop of players.
And in front of a reduced attendance of about a thousand fans, the Rangers delivered in a big way, a 5-2 victory over Barrie Friday night, led by a four-point performance from defenseman Simon Motew.
Rangers head coach and general manager Mike McKenzie said it was good to see Motew get his confidence up.
"He's a guy that has that skill level," said Rangers head coach and general manager Mike McKenzie, "When he plays that way, he's making plays, he's jumping into the play and using his skill, he can be really dangerous coming in off the blue line."
"He's a guy we kind of circled to take a big step this year, so it's nice for him to get started on the right track."
It was the pandemic-era first rounders getting on the board early.
Carson Rehkopf opened the scoring on the first shot on goal on the night just under two minutes in, but Nick Porco tied it a couple minutes later for Barrie, going into the slot untouched and tucking it five-hole on Jackson Parsons.
Fast forward to about 12 minutes into the opening frame, and 2020 first round pick Andrew Leblanc parked himself in front of the net, took a tape-to-tape pass from the point from Motew and made no mistake.
Leblanc scored again before the period was over, and the Rangers were flying.
Roman Schmidt's wrister from just atop the left face off circle made it a 4-1 game halfway through the second. At this point, the shot count was 26-8 for Kitchener.
Motew's play paid off with a goal late in the second. He threw a puck across the slot on the rush, and it bounced off a Colts defender and in.
"It was a bit of puck luck," Motew said, " I tried to hit (Adam) Zidlicky back door. I thought he put it in. I didn't know the other team poked it in, but yeah in a game like that, the game is a lot of skill and systems but there's some luck involved so I got lucky there."
It was the capper on his four-point performance, which he immediately credited the team for.
"I think the team really connects, and we have a tight group already," Motew said, "I think the offensive style of the game is very good and lets everyone be creative and all the young guys, we told them not to be nervous. They went out there and acted like they've played already a year in the league so it was really good to see."
After the Motew goal, things slowed down for the Rangers.
"We kind of tailed off in the third period a little bit, and ran out of steam," McKenzie said.
The Rangers were out shot 12-2 in the final frame, and surrendered one more goal, but the team held on for the win.
McKenzie said there was a lot of stuff he liked from the team, but there is naturally still stuff to work on this early in the process.
But the biggest thing to like on this occasion? Getting back into a rink with fans in attendance.
"It was awesome," said McKenzie, "It almost felt a little surreal when we were walking over to the bench, like someone was going to shake you and wake you up, like you were in a dream or something."
"It was really awesome to see our guys get to play hockey again in a real hockey game. A lot of guys waited a long time."
Jackson Parsons played all 60 minutes for the Rangers, making 26 saves.
McKenzie felt it was too early to put import goalie Pavel Cajan in, noting he just arrived on Tuesday.
But the plan is to rotate the two through the preseason, and Cajan will start in the rematch in Barrie on Saturday, September 18.