It was one of the biggest games of Tyler Randell’s junior hockey career. Strangely, though, it was also a game he spent watch from the stands. He was sitting out, serving the last of a 10-game suspension, while his Kitchener Rangers were fighting for their playoff lives against the Plymouth Whalers.
As an overager, a loss in Sunday night’s Game 6 would have meant the end of his time in the OHL.
“It was huge knowing that this was the end if we didn’t win,” said Randell. “The guys gave it everything and pulled (the victory) off and I owe them everything."
He said despite his nerves, he had faith his teammates would fight to extend both their season and the final days of his career. And they did.
“It was definitely hard sitting up there (in the stands) knowing that we could be facing elimination and not being able to do anything about it,” said the 20-year-old from before Game 7 in Plymouth, Mich. “It’s definitely amazing to get to put on the uniform again and give everything you have to move on.”
Back in the lineup, Randell gave everything he had and then some, scoring four goals to almost single-handedly lift the Kitchener Rangers over Plymouth to advance to the Western Conference final against the London Knights. Randell had been suspended 10 games for a hit to the head of Owen Sound Attack forward Arturs Gavrus in Game 1 of their first-round matchup.
Despite his lengthy absence, Randell has already scored six goals in two playoff games. It’s added offence that the Rangers didn’t expect they’d have this season since the 6-foot-1, 197-pound forward started the year in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins – the farm affiliate of the NHL’s Boston Bruins who drafted him in the sixth-round in 2009.
“It was great because we didn’t have to give up any assets to get something that our team was lacking and that was a power forward,” said Kitchener Rangers head coach and general manager Steve Spott. “Peter Chiarelli and the Boston Bruins were kind enough to send Tyler back to help fill that void.”
Randell was sent back to the Rangers two days before the OHL’s January trade deadline, meaning that Spott had to move overager Julian Melchiori to the Oshawa Generals to make room for the winger’s return. In his 17 regular-season games with Kitchener, Randell scored nine goals and added one assist.
In the playoffs however – as limited as his time has been - Randell has certainly proved to be the spark the Rangers have been looking for, not only on the ice but in the dressing room as well.
“He brings a real physical dimension to (our team),” said Spott. “He’s obviously a big strong kid that has a very underrated skill set as we saw (Tuesday) night what he can do in the playoffs.”
The victory over Plymouth was a definite surprise since many OHL observers had pegged the Whalers to move through to the next round and potentially represent the Western Conference in the league final. Still, the Rangers should not be taken lightly.
Their back end is lead by NHL first-round pick Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes) along with stalwarts Cody Sol, Max Iafrate and Ben Fanelli – who has improved by leaps and bounds in the postseason. Goaltender John Gibson has also come on strong in the playoffs, coming up with big saves and dropping his goals-against average to 2.17 and boosting his save percentage to .948.
Up front the Rangers have leading scorers Tobias Rieder (10 goals, 13 assists) and captain Michael Catenacci (six goals, 17 assists). Forward Radek Faksa, a highly-touted prospect for the 2012 NHL draft, is also an offensive threat who returned to the Rangers for Game 3 of the Whalers series after suffering a head injury in the first-round against Owen Sound. However, if the Rangers are to pull off the same kind of upset against the top-ranked Knights, they’re going to need some secondary scoring.
“These are the types of series that the players like the Tyler Randells and Ben Thomsons are critical and we’re going to need those guys to be great if we’re going to be successful in this series (against London),” said Spott.
The Rangers won’t have much time to soak up their Game 7 victory over Plymouth, since Game 1 of the Western Conference final begins on Thursday in London.
“At this time of year your maintenance days are so important but at the same time these kids are so fit, they understand the rigours of playing at this level,” said Spott. “For me as a coach, you’d always like to have that extra day, but that the kids are going to be chomping at the bit to get going.
“We’ll be prepared to play (Thursday) night.”