67’s Down Generals in Milestone-Filled Affair

The Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) have plenty to be thankful for on Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, but among them is a big victory over the Oshawa Generals, a team that many have picked to be in the Eastern Conference’s upper tier. It was a game reminiscent of the 2019-20 season where the 67’s would put a chokehold on the game early on and never look back. Although it maybe wasn’t as clinical as the past couple of teams would have made it, there’s no hiding what a dominant performance it was for the 67’s.

It marks the second consecutive win in front of the home fans in Ottawa after defeating the Kingston Frontenacs 3-2 on Sunday and the Generals 7-3 on Monday afternoon. The night was filled with plenty of firsts, and it was a statement win of sorts for the 67’s.

Colin MacKenzie’s Big Saves

You might recall that Colin MacKenzie got into the game while the 67’s were being pumped in Kingston earlier in the weekend, but his first career OHL start wasn’t until Monday afternoon, a game where he was put to the test early and often. He turned aside 26 of the 29 shots thrown at him, and it would have been asking a lot for him to do any better. The goals that the Generals scored left him with no chance with a couple of cross-crease passes and one that deflected off the stick of Matthew Mayich, his own defenceman.

Colin MacKenzie, Ottawa 67's
Colin MacKenzie, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

“My goalie [MacKenzie] was really good,” said 67’s head coach Dave Cameron following the game. “He was really good, especially in the first period. We only gave up like six shots but four of them were grade ‘A’ chances and it allowed us to get our legs underneath us a bit and we got some timely scoring.”

The first period was critical for MacKenzie, as Cameron alluded to. There were multiple moments where it looked like the Generals would get on the score sheet only to be denied by a sprawling MacKenzie. He truly did hold the 67’s in the game while they settled in. He was sharp when the 67’s needed it the most.

Related: 67’s Get a Measure of Revenge Against the Frontenacs in Home Opener

“Definitely, you’re confident when you have a good goalie behind you,” said Jack Matier, one of the 67’s leaders on defence. “He made a lot of really good saves today and it didn’t look like his first OHL game.”

MacKenzie wears a smile at just about all times, and you can imagine the smile he had after securing his first-ever win in the OHL. Well, the good news is that you don’t have to imagine it, the 67’s decided to show it off.

How this game would have gone without MacKenzie playing as well as he did is hard to know, but one thing is for sure, the 67’s would have had to dig themselves out of quite the hole. There’s one final thing that needs to be pointed out about the play of MacKenzie in this game, and it has nothing to do with stopping the puck. His ability to safely leave the net and handle the puck is a huge plus for the 67’s and allows his defencemen more time and space to make a play. He forces the other team to think about dumping the puck in, and he stops them from making full-scale line changes for the risk of him springing a forward at the far blue line for a breakaway.

It’s only his debut, but there has been so much to like about MacKenzie early this season, and there is a good chance that his play, coupled with his infectious smile and personality, will soon make him a fan favourite in Ottawa.

Jack Matier’s Big Day

Jack Matier, Ottawa 67s
Jack Matier Ottawa 67s (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Like the 67’s, Matier has plenty to be thankful for, but it might be one of the biggest days in his young life. During the game, the Nashville Predators made it official that they had signed Matier to a three-year entry-level contract after they selected him in the fourth round, 124th-overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

“Obviously it’s a dream come true,” said Matier. “Every kid wants to play in the NHL, and this is a stepping stone towards that.”

Matier found the back of the net and added three more assists, bringing himself within four points of his 2019-20 season total. People who are only begging to follow his journey might be shocked to find out that these were his first two goals in the OHL, and that’s no different for Cameron, who couldn’t believe these were his first goals at the level.

“I can’t believe that’s his first OHL goal,” he said. “Like all your (NHL) drafted players in junior, you expect them to be difference-makers and multipliers, in making other players better. That’s exactly what he is. And a great teammate on top of that, too. A big part of this team today and he will be moving forward.”

Matier’s role in the offence has certainly increased this season as he steps up to fill the shoes of some of the players that were around him in his rookie season. One of those players that have moved on is his former partner, Noel Hoefenmayer. Matier earned some comparisons to Hoefenmayer on the afternoon thanks in large part to his offensive output, something that he is honoured to hear.

“That’s a huge compliment to be compared to Noel,” said Matier. “He was a huge role model for me last year, he’s an awesome guy on and off the ice, so I definitely think I’m following in his footsteps and becoming a leader on this team slowly. I think I’m just gonna do what I do every day and try to get better and take some of the younger guys under my wing and try to show them the way.”

Matier only has 59 games under his belt at the OHL level, but here he is as one of the 67’s leaders and somehow veterans. There is still plenty of room for him to grow, and he’s done just about everything that he needs to do to get where he wants to go.

“The draft is just an arbitrary number somebody puts on you at a certain time,” said Cameron. “It doesn’t define you. He puts the work in every day and he was a guy that probably wasn’t expected to make that under-18 team that won the gold medal, but he found his way onto that team.”

“His future is bright and it’s in front of him,” Cameron continued. “I know one thing, with the attitude he has and the work ethic he has, he’s going to reach his highest level whatever that is.”

A New Thomas Johnston

In the 2019-20 season, Thomas Johnston never looked particularly threatening on the offensive end of the ice. It always seemed that when he had a chance to score, something would go wrong for him. Maybe it was a broken stick, maybe it was him fanning on the puck, or maybe it was a highlight reel save from the goaltender, but no matter what, he couldn’t produce. He hasn’t scored yet this season, and the points aren’t exactly piling up for him early on, but you can see a difference in the way he is playing.

Thomas Johnston, Ottawa 67's
Thomas Johnston, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

He seems to have a new confidence when he has the puck. On Matier’s first goal, Johnston was the one to make the drop pass that set him up for the goal. His offensive production wasn’t finished there either. He made yet another great pass to find Matier once more before Jack Beck scored his second goal of the game.

He’s showing a level of confidence and creativity that he didn’t have in his rookie season in 2019-20, and his poise and do-it-all mindset have been a huge plus to the 67’s early in the season. Johnston isn’t expected to be the kind of guy who scores the flashy goals or who loads up in the points category, but the production is certainly helpful, especially for a 67’s team who is still searching for their go-to offensive weapons.

Johnston’s forte is more on the physical side of things. It’s not something you would necessarily expect out of a player who is just 5-foot-9 and 161 pounds, but he loves to lay the body whenever possible. In Sunday’s win over Kingston, Johnston seemed to have Shane Wright marked, running into him every chance he had. If he can continue to be a pain in the backside of opponents and be productive on the offensive side of the ice, he could quickly become a player who sees more and more of the ice as the season goes on.

The Special Special Teams

On the afternoon, the 67’s power play was three for five, and their penalty kill was two for three, a relatively strong performance for both units. Through their first three games of the season, the 67’s power-play unit is clicking along at 50 percent, scoring on five of their 10 chances, good for the top-ranked power play in the OHL. Their penalty kill ranks 17th in the OHL early on, but it has been improving game-over-game as they currently stand at 66.7 percent efficiency.

Dave Cameron, Ottawa 67's
Dave Cameron, head coach of the Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

“Well the power play is Norm [Milley], Norm handles that,” said Cameron. “Norm was a power play guy himself as a player. He’s a good coach and a good teacher, so he’s got the guys right now clicking and he’s a detail guy. The power play just seems to be getting some breaks and we score in different ways, were crashing the net and things like that.”

“Martin [Dagenais] does the PK,” continued Cameron. “The PK wasn’t great through the exhibition series, but he’s really tightened it up and really defined the roles. The guys have bought in, but the special teams are always a work-in-progress. They kinda come I’m ebbs and flows and stuff like that. The goal that we gave up were great spots but we just extended our shift and we were just exhausted at the end of it and that’s something that’s not structural, but it’s certainly something that we can change and will change.”

A Successful Weekend

If you told the 67’s that they would be 2-1 after playing the Kingston Frontenacs and the Oshawa Generals in their first three games, they would have taken it in a heartbeat. It was sometimes sweet and sometimes sour, but there was plenty to like about the opening weekend for a young 67’s team. A milestone-filled weekend comes to a close with the 67’s leading the East Division and multiple other categories of statistics. They now have a week of preparations before taking on the Oshawa Generals again on Friday, October 15 and the Sudbury Wolves on Sunday, October 17, with both games coming at the Arena at TD Place.

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