The Kitchener Rangers had their fate in their own hands.
Heading in to Wednesday night, if the Rangers won one of their final three games they would clinch fifth place in the Western Conference.
Riley Damiani had a hat-trick and the Rangers routed the Erie Otters 6-3 which sets up a first-round match-up with the Guelph Storm.
“It’s a short bus ride, so I don’t mind that,” laughed Kitchener head coach Jay McKee. “These guys have really dug in during the second half and have put together some good hockey. They’re getting rewarded for their attention to detail and their hard work.”
It’s the second year in a row the Highway 7 rivals will face-off in the opening round. This year, the Storm are the heavy favourite after making numerous moves at the deadline.
“I’m looking forward to going into the playoffs as an underdog,” said McKee. “That’s a role I’ve been in as a coach and as a player. When you win a series as an underdog it feels better than when you win as a favourite. I’m excited. I think the guys are too.”
“Always fun games playing against Guelph,” said captain Rickard Hugg. “The last four-or-five games against them have been like playoff games. A lot of emotions, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The season series was split down the middle, four games a piece. Kitchener has won three of the last four since the deadline.
“The players know they can beat them,” said McKee. “We have guys that have really stepped up. Having won those games, gives us the confidence that we know we can do it.”
“Of course, that feels good,” said Hugg. “But, when you get into the first round of the playoffs, everything is set to zero again. So, it doesn’t really matter. They have a great team, so we have to be ready to play every game.”
The series begins next Friday, the 22nd, in Guelph. Game 2 will be Sunday, March 24th at 2:00 p.m.
Story by Chris Pope