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'It's tough to see it end': Rangers reflect on second round exit in OHL Playoffs

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Friday was cleanout day for the Kitchener Rangers after their season came to an abrupt end the night before.

The team held its player exit meetings the day after their 4-3 loss to the London Knights. The four-game sweep in the second round of the OHL playoffs marked the second straight year the Rangers were eliminated by their rivals down Hwy 401.

“It’s sad obviously,” said Rangers forward Carson Rehkopf. “[We’re a] very close group so it’s tough to see it end.”

London took a 4-1 lead in the 2nd period after Kasper Halttunen tipped a point shot past netminder Jackson Parsons. The Rangers answered with back-to-back goals from Trent Swick, but ultimately time ran out on the comeback and their season.

“All of the games were tight,” Rangers head coach Jussi Ahokas told CTV News. “There were small things, errors, special teams where we should have been better.”

The Knights have yet to lose a game in these playoffs, going a perfect 8-0 through the first two rounds.

“We had an OK year. If we had [beaten] London we would have had a great year,” Ahokas said. “If you lose a series 4-0, you didn’t have a chance.”

General manager Mike McKenzie drew some positives from this season, citing the low expectations the team had coming into the year and their ability to exceed them. Despite advancing to the second round of the OHL Playoffs in each of the past three years, McKenzie said the way this season ended left a sour taste.

“Any time you get swept you’d like to give a little more of a fight,” McKenzie said. “Only one team can win in the end. 19 teams go home disappointed and we’re one of them.”

Thursday marked the final OHL game for Rangers over-agers Mitchell Martin, Simon Motew, and Matthew Sop, with each player’s OHL eligibility officially coming to an end.

“There was definitely a tear or two shed last night,” said Kitchener native Matthew Sop, who played his entire career with his hometown team. “It’s really sad, but moments like this I try to really appreciate everything Kitchener has done for me. I’m really grateful to be a Ranger my whole life.”

Teammates Carson Rehkopf and Hunter Brzustewicz are both coming off career seasons. Rehkopf became the first Ranger to score 50 goals in a season since 2019 en route to making Team Canada’s IIHF World Junior Championship team, while Brzustewicz’s 92 points tied him with Jason Gladney for the highest scoring single season by a defenceman in franchise history.

Both Rehkopf (Seattle Kraken) and Brzustewicz (Calgary Flames) are eligible to return to the Rangers this Fall, after getting an opportunity to crack an NHL roster next season.

“Just trying to do whatever I can in the summer and get myself ready for whatever happens,” Rehkopf said.”

Looking ahead to next season McKenzie hopes to see internal growth and improvement in order to succeed.

“We need a lot of those players to take steps, get stronger, and come back and take on bigger roles for us. That’s what junior hockey is all about,” McKenzie said.

The Rangers drafted 14 players in last week’s OHL Priority Selection:

- Round 1: Evan Headrick (C)

- Round 2: Alexander Bilecki (LD)

- Round 3: Weston Cameron (C)

- Round 4: Nathan Gaitens (RD)

- Round 5: Jason Schaubel (G)

- Round 6: Matt Souter (RW)

- Round 8: Jacob Xu (LD)

- Round 10: Jude Bray (LD)

- Round 11: Avry Anstis (RW)

- Round 12: Nolan Carriere (G)

- Round 12: Ryker Young (LD)

- Round 13: Jack Hextall (C)

- Round 14: Dylan Orr (RD)

- Round 15: Ryder Robertson

Heading into the summer, McKenzie says he’ll look at all options to improve the team ahead of next season.

“We’ll take a look at everything and leave no stone unturned in the offseason to help improve our team internally and externally,” McKenzie said.

Returning players are scheduled to report to training camp for the 2024-25 season in late August.

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