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Kitchener Rangers welcome new faces ahead of season opener


With the Kitchener Rangers set to open their regular season on Friday, the team is coming in with new faces on and off the ice.

First-year head coach Jussi Ahokas has taken the reins on a Rangers team that reached the second round in last year’s playoffs.

“I want to set a high standard on how we work,” said Ahokas after stepping off the ice at Thursday’s practice.

Ahokas admitted he introduced “a lot” of new systems throughout camp and the pre-season and it can take time for the players to absorb every bit of information.

“Overall, I love the way our boys are practicing. They’re working hard,” Ahokas said. “I think we’re in a good position but there’s still tons of work to do.”

This season represents a sort of changing of the guard. The team bid farewell to several core players:

  • Francesco Pinelli (C)
  • Francesco Arcuri
  • Filip Mešár
  • Reid Valade
  • Danny Zhilkin
  • Roman Schmidt

“Obviously we miss them being here. I think they were a big part of our team,” said second-year defenceman Hunter Brzustewicz.

With Pinelli moving on to the LA Kings organization, the Rangers are set to open the season without a team captain. Ahokas said they’ve put thought into naming a new captain but have yet to make a decision.

“We have ideas but we want to be sure,” Ahokas said. “Maybe it will be five to ten games then we’ll name one.”

Ahokas added the Rangers won’t go the full season without naming a captain.

So much turnover is a common occurrence in junior hockey, leaving the coaching staff to look upon returning players to step into leadership roles.

“It’s just a good opportunity for the guys,” Ahokas said. “I think the group is really tight and they really like to be together so that way it might be an even easier group for the boys to lead themselves.”

Brzustewicz is one of four Rangers to return from NHL training camps this week:

  • Hunter Brzustewicz (VAN)
  • Carson Rehkopf (SEA)
  • Matthew Andonovski (OTT)
  • Tomáš Hamara (OTT)

Along with NHL draftees, the Rangers have seven rookies on the roster.

This year’s rookie class is highlighted by defenceman Cameron Reid and forward Luca Romano, who were selected back to back in the first round of the 2023 OHL Priority Selection.

“I know a rookie year can [have] ups and downs,” Cameron Reid told CTV News.

The 16-year-old defenceman stressed consistency when approaching his first OHL season. The Aylmer, Ont. native is making a point of learning from the “veteran guys” to grow as a player.

“It’s hard to play in this league as a 16 year old but I think they are capable of it. Of course, we have to be patient for them and they have to be patent also,” Ahokas said.

The Rangers open their season with a home tilt against the Saginaw Spirit. The team says at least 6,000 tickets have already been sold but seats are still available.

“It’s gonna be a good crowd. I think that we expect ourselves to do really good for the fans,” Brzustewicz said.

The team made a trade on Thursday, acquiring goaltender Tristam Malboeuf from the Brantford Bulldogs in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2026 OHL Priority Draft and conditional fifth-round pick in the 2027 draft. Top Stories

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