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Erie Otters Vs Kitchener Rangers: Playoff Preview

The 2023-24 Ontario Hockey League regular season has concluded and now it is time to look ahead to the 2024 J. Ross Robertson Cup Playoffs, which begin on Thursday, March 28th. One of the OHL's most intriguing postseason battles is a Midwest Division battle in the Western Conference between the fourth-seeded Kitchener Rangers and the fifth-seeded Erie Otters.

The Rangers enter the postseason with home-ice advantage for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Meanwhile, the Otters will make their first playoff appearance since they won the J. Ross Robertson Cup in 2016-17.

Kitchener Rangers Look To Make Deep Playoff Run In West

The Kitchener Rangers, led by head coach Jussi Ahokas and general manager Mike McKenzie, enter the playoffs. The team finished with a record of 41-23-4 (W-L-OTL) and was fourth in the Western Conference and second in the Midwest Division.

The team is led by forward Carson Rehkopf, who finished the season with a team-high 95 points including 52 goals. The 19-year-old was drafted 50th overall by the Seattle Kraken in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Behind Rehkopf is Calgary Flames prospect defenseman Hunter Brzustewicz, who finished with a team-high 79 assists and 92 total points. The 19-year-old was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 75th overall in the same draft as Rehkopf, but his rights were traded to Calgary earlier this year.

A valuable playmaker for the Rangers is overage forward Matthew Sop. The undrafted 21-year-old has scored 43 goals, added 47 assists, and has been a key contributor for Kitchener. After only scoring 56 points last year, the center has made a huge jump and will be an X-Factor in the Rangers making a deep playoff run. 

One piece the Rangers will be missing is forward Trent Swick. Kitchener's third-round pick in the 2020 OHL Draft has 25 goals and 62 points on the season but will miss the first three games of the series after being assessed a five-game suspension after an incident during a game against the Guelph Storm. Kitchener has lost its first two games without the 19-year-old and has only scored four goals in two games in his absence.

In net for the Kitchener Rangers is goaltender Jackson Parsons. The 19-year-old goaltender finished with a 2.99 goals allowed average and .897% with a record of 27-18-2. Parsons played three games against Erie allowing over three goals in one of them. He won both games he started against the Otters and came in relief for backup Triston Malboeuf in his last appearance.

Erie Otters Look To Return To Form After Ending Playoff Drought

The Erie Otters enter the playoffs led by head coach Stan Butler and general manager Dave Brown. The team finished with a record of 33-28-7 (W-L-OTL) and finished fifth in the Western Conference and third in the Midwest Division.

The team is led by forward Carey Terrance, who finished with 29 goals and 52 points in 56 games played. The 18-year-old was drafted 59th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2023 NHL Draft. He represented Team USA at the World Juniors last December. He is the Otters' top goal scorer but suffered an injury that caused him to miss the last few games of the season. He is expected to play during the playoffs.

The playmaker who sets up the goals is forward Malcolm Spence. A projected first-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft, the 17-year-old added 19 goals and 43 assists. He was drafted second overall in the 2022 OHL Draft.

There are many bright stars on the Otters' young defense including captain Spencer Sova, who has been clutch in overtime, enforcer Owain Johnston, crafty Alexis Daviault, who nearly had a hat trick back in January, and the first-overall pick in the 2023 OHL Draft in Matthew Schaefer.

While the Otters have many playmakers on offense and a solid defensive group, their struggle throughout the season has been goaltending. Overage star goalie Ben Gaudreau, acquired from Sarnia last year, was one of the best goaltenders last postseason and helped the Sting make a deep playoff run. However, the 21-year-old has been out since January 21st, and the team does not know yet if he will play against Kitchener.

In relief for Gaudreau has been backup Jacob Gibbons and overage goalie Ethan Fraser, who was loaned on an emergency basis and has started most games in Gaudreau's absence.

While Gibbons struggled early on, he improved by the end of the season. The former second-round pick started two games against Kitchener, allowing 15 goals in his first three starts against the Rangers. However, he held them to only one goal on February 3rd in a 6-1 win at home.

But if Ben Gaudreau cannot go, Fraser will likely get the start. The 21-year-old has started ten games for Erie with a 6-1-2 record, allowing only 2.96 GAA and saving .904% of shots. He has been fantastic for the Otters in his short time in Erie. He saved 40/41 shots against the Eastern Conference-leading Oshawa Generals and has picked up wins against the Saginaw Spirit and the Rangers.

Keys To Winning The Series

Kitchener Rangers

The Kitchener Rangers have played excellent hockey all season. At one point, they were leading the Western Conference and had an eight-game winning streak in November. Don't let their four-game losing streak fool you; this team is really good. With solid goaltending and two of the league's top scorers, Kitchener has all the tools to make a deep playoff run.

Erie Otters

No team in the conference besides London has been hotter than the Erie Otters. The team enters the postseason on a five-game winning streak, scoring at least four goals every contest. While the team has won its last two home matchups with the Rangers, the team will have to go on the road and beat Kitchener to win this series. The Otters have not won in K-Town since October 2022.

Erie Otters vs Kitchener Rangers Schedule

Game 1: Friday, March 29 – Erie at Kitchener, 7:00 P.M.

Game 2: Sunday, March 31 – Erie at Kitchener, 2:00 P.M.

Game 3: Tuesday, April 2 – Kitchener at Erie, 7:00 P.M.

Game 4: Thursday, April 4 – Kitchener at Erie, 7:00 P.M.

Game 5*: Friday, April 5 – Erie at Kitchener, 7:00 P.M.

Game 6*: Monday, April 8 – Kitchener at Erie, 7:00 P.M.

Game 7*: Tuesday, April 9 – Erie at Kitchener, 7:00 P.M.

*if necessary


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