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Jordan Ercit Photo

Jordan Ercit Photo

Kitchener Rangers forward Matt Puempel, out for all but one game since Nov. 27, has been cleared to play Friday against Brampton.

Rangers gameday: Puempel glad to be back

By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff

Matt Puempel is glad to be back, considering how much he missed the last couple months.

The world juniors, NHL training camp, the chance to continue stoking his hot start to the OHL season with the Kitchener Rangers, it was all put on hold Nov. 27 at The Aud on a harmless looking play behind the London Knights net.

But after a brief appearance Dec. 28 against the Barrie Colts, Puempel believes he is ready to go this time around and will shake the rust off his once-sprained shoulder Friday night at The Aud against the Brampton Battalion at 7:30 p.m.

The Essex, Ont., native, still the Rangers’ leading goal scorer with 21 in 27 games, got his clearance to play Wednesday.

“It was a relief that I didn’t need surgery and I was happy with that,” said Puempel, who has gone under the knife before — when he had reconstructive hip surgery during his NHL draft year. “But missing the world juniors and NHL training camps, that takes a toll on you mentally.

“Anytime you get injured, it’s tough. But this time around it was especially hard.”

That’s because Puempel didn’t get a shot at making the Canadian world junior team in his final season of eligibility. He didn’t even get an invite because he was rehabbing a Grade 1 sprain of his shoulder at the time.

He didn’t even watch a game.

“The timing of it didn’t work out,” he said. “The games were really early in the morning. It was unfortunate how they did and I wish those guys nothing but the best in the future.”

The same thing happened this week when the 6’ sniper was not one of the 27 players invited to a lockout-shortened training camp for the Ottawa Senators, the team that selected him 24th overall out of the Peterborough Petes organization at the 2011 NHL draft.

Puempel was invited to the Senators’ 2011-12 training camp and played nine games with their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., at the end of the last OHL season. But again the timing didn’t work out.

So instead, Puempel says he is looking forward, to getting back into the Rangers’ lineup and resuming his charge toward another 30-goal season.

And why not?

The Rangers have changed aplenty since Puempel last played a full game in a Kitchener uniform. Recent acquisitions Josh Leivo and Derek Schoenmakers have given the team an goal-scoring shot in the arm. Frank Corrado provides the defence a strong all-around presence — when or if he returns from NHL camp in Vancouver.

Sure, super No. 1A goalie Franky Palazzese is gone, but Joel Vienneau is a more than capable starter, let alone backup, behind world junior MVP John Gibson.

“It’s an exciting time,” Puempel said. “We’re on a roll now and we’re looking to build on that, get a good seed in the playoffs.

“We have a chance here to finish strong.”

KITCHENER NOTES: How is all that free chili tasting, Kitchener?

The Rangers have been filling the net of late and, in the process, filling the lineup at local Wendy’s restaurants with 16 goals in their last three home games.

Coming off a pair of five-goal wins, the Rangers welcome Brampton to town with some of their top players on the way back from injury and NHL camps.

In addition to Puempel, Radek Faksa was expected back in Kitchener Wednesday after attending the Dallas Stars’ camp. John Gibson was reassigned from Anaheim’s camp late Wednesday and Justin Bailey was expected back from the CHL top prospects game Thursday.

No word yet on Ryan Murphy (Carolina) and Corrado (Vancouver) as of Thursday morning.

BRAMPTON NOTES: The Battalion are completing their final mission in Brampton with the franchise on the move to next season to North Bay, which hosted the Centennials from 1982 to 2002 before the franchise moved to Saginaw, Mich.

Which is sad for Brampton fans, because this could be a team on the rise. Blake Clarke, 16, leads the team in scoring. Patrik Machac, Brandon Robinson, Jamie Lewis and Nick Paul — four to seven in team scoring — are 18 or younger.

Meanwhile, overage forward Francis Menard is the newest Troop and the team’s second-leading scorer after being acquired from Peterborough at the trade deadline. He should be quite familiar with The Aud after spending three seasons with the Guelph Storm.

POST SEZ: There could be a lot of mixing and matching tonight as the Rangers adjust to having a full stable of scorers since Puempel sprained his shoulder in November.

Meanwhile, the four newest Rangers — Schoenmakers, Leivo, Vienneau and possibly Corrado — take a walk down memory lane this weekend.

The former Wolves return to Sudbury Sunday after facing former Central Division foes Barrie and Brampton.

jercit@kitchenerpost.ca

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